Mother sues Chesterfield school officials after child’s fatal peanut allergy

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CHESTERFIELD COUNTY, Va. ( -- The mother of a 7-year-old girl who died in January 2012 after ingesting a peanut at Hopkins Elementary School has filed a defamation lawsuit against Chesterfield Schools Superintendent Marcus Newsome and former School Board member Patty Carpenter, along with four other school officials.

Laura Pendleton’s suit seeks $1 million in actual damages and $350,000 in punitive damages. The defendants include Newsome and Carpenter; former Assistant Superintendent Ed Witthoefft; Jody Enoch, public health nurse supervisor for the Chesterfield Health Department; Tim Bullis, the school system’s community relations director; and Shawn Smith, assistant director of community relations for county schools.

In the lawsuit, Pendleton also seeks to “set the record straight” that her daughter, Amarria Johnson, died not as a result of Pendleton’s actions, but because of the “grossly negligent actions of certain school and health department officials.”

In an attempt to deflect attention away from the conduct of those officials, the suit claims, the defendants made “false and defamatory statements” that were disseminated publicly through various media outlets and created an incorrect impression that Pendleton “was responsible for her daughter’s death or otherwise neglected her child.”

Click here to read the full story on the Chesterfield Observer.


  • Freddy

    Sounds like the mom is looking for a payday here — use the child’s death for her own financial benefit…no offense meant but how is getting paid from a lawsuit going to help the kid? Will money raise the child from the dead??

    • April

      I know this mother personally and what happened to her child is outrageous! I was at work with her that day when she got the first call. The schools need to take more responsibility for the children they have in there care. It should not have mattered that her dtr didn’t have her own personal medication… she had stopped breathing! Im sorry but use someone else’s epi pen!! The school had a medical plan in place from her dtr’s md! She was child and no matter what she shouldn’t have suffered like that.

      • jamal

        And i know somebody that works at the school.Why did the parent refuse multiple requests to provide an epi pen to them in case it was needed?Did the school make her eat the peanut.The result is sad,but not the school’s fault.

      • Kristin Thomas

        Why didn’t she come to the school when they called her? Why didn’t she drop her work and rush there when the child was sick and deal with it??? Why didn’t she provide the school with the proper medication for her daughter so they would have it there if needed?!?! If it were MY child, I would have gone and done it myself, not left it on the school to deal with alone. And by LAW the school cannot give any medication prescribed to anyone else to another child. That is also a huge legal liability. Schools today can’t even give a child an aspirin for a headache, without facing the possibility of being sued for it by a parent! It seems to me that Ms. Pendleton is trying to ease her own guilt over this child’s death by blaming everyone but herself. I’m sorry the child is gone, but suing the county isn’t going to make anyone or anything better.

    • mika

      @ freddy nothing can bring her child back, but does that mean that the school system shouldn’t take some responsibility? is everyone that files a wrongful death lawsuit looking for a payday. smh…peoples’ insensitivity is amazing

  • Real American

    The school didn’t have the necessary medications to help the child in case of an emergency they should pay.

      • mika

        joe. where would you have had the child? she simply needed a medication which the school did not have. because the child had an allergy was she not supposed to learn?

      • athynz

        Why should this child have been anywhere else? I’m not going to sugarcoat this – your posts are the most ignorant ones on this topic. Go troll elsewhere or at the very least please go educate yourself on peanut allergies and this specific situation prior to posting about it again.

      • Joe

        Because my children shouldn’t be prohibited from bringing in a sandwich because your kid can get sick by it.

        The catering to the lowest common denominator is why our education system is in the state that it’s in now.

    • manalishi

      Probably. Everyone reacts differently from a tragic loss of a child so there is no point searching for her motive. It’s also a vulnerable time for the mother as well.

  • shelly

    If she was white what would you have to say? Plenty of people, black and white, sue for negligence when a loved one has died. So pay homage to the black and white turds! You see it all the time involving car accidents. Then look at the commercials when they say if a loved one has died from this or that, you can sue for monetary gain. None of these instances will involved anyone being raised from the dead. This has nothing to do with the color. Stop being a hater because you see a black family with the potential to have a big pay day.

  • John

    Yea it’s a payday for a lawyer. The mother should have taught that child to have her medication with her at all times. The taxpayer can”t nanny everyone.

    • athynz

      1) The child was 7 years old – most 7 year olds won’t remember to carry their meds even with constant nagging. 2) School rules require any and all medications to be kept with the school nurse. This is not a case of taxpayers playing nanny but a case of school officials negligence and cover ups.

    • April

      Would you say that if it was your child that died? Read the article and maybe you would see that the mother did try to give the school her epi pen and they told her that they had all the necessary meds if an event was to occur! The school needs to be held accountable for something. This was a little girl!

  • Joe

    If your child has allergies so severe, why not form a local educational co-op so they may be schooled in an environment that would be free of such triggers?

    That’s a much kinder thing to consider doing than depriving thousands of other children of one of the least expensive yet healthy food options available.

    • athynz

      Sure let’s segregate the kids – yeah that’ll work. I have to ask did you think about what you posted? Seriously you must be ignorant of the issue here.

      • Joe

        The already segregate the mentally/physically challenged, to segment off those with severe allergy issues would be beneficial for all parties involved, and about the easiest/cheapest solution.

  • Ard Vaark

    Unless one of the individuals named in the suit were present and aware of the child’s allegies and failed to stop the child I can’t see their responsibility. Of course the child couldn’t be responsible put putting the peanuts in her mouth, some one forced her I’m sure.

  • Karen

    I clicked on the link to the Chesterfield Observer story. There is much more detail there and if true, this mother may have a case.

  • kim

    I am also a nurse and worked with laura at the time this all happened. In my opinion the school and the nurse were negligent. It clearly states the school as well as the nurse knew of her allergy prior to her ingesting peanuts. She should’ve been given the epi-pen. I applaud laura for sticking up for what is right and bringing awareness so that no other child has to suffer the way her daughter did. It won’t bring her daughter back but hopefully it will push for stricter guidelines. Schools have a nurse on staff for a reason.

  • Amy

    I can completely understand the desire to sue, the mother wants someone to pay for her loss. I can’t imagine losing a child over something so senseless. It’s beyond comprehension. But my issue with a lawsuit like this, is what does it change or what does it make better? I don’t disagree that there was negligence on the school’s part, but if that is the case, then why are there no criminal charges? What does giving the mother over a million dollars accomplish? How does it offer a solution to preventing future deaths? I can understand looking for compensation when losing someone who financially supports you and your future is compromised by that loss. Such as a child who losses a parent/caregiver and future wages are lost. This isn’t about suing a company that has made profits off selling a product that killed her child. So I can’t stand behind this kind of lawsuit. I have great sympathy for the mother but I would rather see efforts made to change school policies and procedures. Or, if she does sue, the taxpayers should not pay this restitution. It should come personally, from all the individuals sued and they should pay out of their personal finances for this.

  • Brandi

    I am also a nurse who worked with Laura. I don’t blame her one bit for pursuing this case. People are quick to judge and say what they feel but how would you feel knowing that you child had died in such a manner struggling to breathe and that now they are gone. She is fighting so this won’t happen to another child. And beings that she is a nurse herself I don’t hardly think that she didn’t do her part with providing a life saving medication that would have saved her child’s life. And to say that a child should stay at home because of a peanut allergy is rediculous. There are tons of children that require accommodations for diabetes or breathing issues or Autism or seizures. One issue is no more important than any other. All of these children deserve an education and the right to be at school around other children so that they can have a normal social life. I pray that the people that are so judgemental never have a child with a disability or requires special care. May justice be served for this little girl and safety be provided for other children who have the potential of this happening to them!

    • Amy

      I am not quick to judge and I have several family members who have deadly peanut allergies. So I know exactly what I am saying. But explain to me how her suing for this much money is “fighting so this won’t happen to another child”? In what possible way does that add up?

      Just because her situation is horribly tragic doesn’t entitle her to anything or everything. And just because I don’t agree with her lawsuit doesn’t make me callous or heartless. I would rather something else be done to actually save future lives than see an exhaustive lawsuit drag on and cost nothing but time and money while nothing of substance really changes.

  • John

    How is she trying to prevent this from happening to another kid, buy a bankrupting the county and the school system? Yeah that ‘ll teach them, get real lady. The mother should be ashamed of herself for exploiting her daughter death for a “pay day”. You people are pathetic.

  • Peggy

    The mother should have taught her daughter to never accept food from anyone, not even an adult. I’ve known five-year-olds who know they can only eat what a parent have given them.

  • T. L.

    My heart breaks for the mom and the little girl’s family. It states that another child gave her the food that she ate. Teachers and admin have to watch 20+ kids at a time, sometimes without any additional eyes helping out. It is unfortunate, but if your child has a life-threating illness, public schooling should be taken with precaution as well. I’m not the parent and don’t know what she may have told her daughter but the school does not sound like it its in the wrong here. Virginia public schools are already having problems with funding, do we really want to damage the system with lawsuits to pay for? Suing them won’t bring that little girl back, the story as a whole is just sad!

  • Rob K

    Did the mother provide anything for the child since her visit in 2011?
    Teachers and staff change every school year. According to the lawsuit, the mother never brought in any Benadryl since her visit. Is the school responsible for the parent’s actions as well?

  • Charlie

    @ jamal…..If you weren’t working at the school than all you have Is hear say! People lie everyday to protect themselves and jobs EVERYDAY!! so of course the school is going to LIE!! HOW MANY PEOPLE HAVE LIED TO YOU IN YOUR LIFE TIME!!. and how many times have you lied yourself! And Thank you for your comment I’m sure the lawyers are all watching and this will add to her defamation case!!!

  • chelsea

    It amazes me that people can be that ignorant and cold hearted to say a parent is looking for a pay day. When u send your child to school in the morning you expect for them to come home in the evening once school is out, and not to get a phone call that your child is sick and has died. No parent should have to put their child in the ground. Yes, the school district of Chesterfield should be held accountable for what happened. If that was your child what would you do? So for the cold hearted and ignorant people who have posted hurtful comments may GOD HAVE MERCY ON YOUR SOULS.

  • Taz

    Laura is fam to me in my eyes she should own the school . A million dollars is nothing it would never bring her child back .laura and her wife are hard workers and already have a decent living so its really not a pay day u guys need to chill with all these reckless posts

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