Health

Virginia Supreme Court Revives Mother's Lawsuit Against School Officials After Daughter's Peanut Allergy Death

| by Jonathan Constante

The Virginia Supreme Court has reversed a lower court’s decision to throw out a woman’s defamation lawsuit case against school officials.

Laura Mary-Beth Pendleton filed a lawsuit against Chesterfield County Schools superintendent Dr. Marcus Newsome and other school officials after she claims the school implied that she was responsible for the January 2012 death of her daughter, Amarria Denise Johnson.

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Amarria was just 7 years old when she passed away. She died of an allergic reaction after a classmate at Hopkins Road Elementary School gave her peanuts, WTVR reported.

Pendleton, who is a licensed practical nurse, said she made the school aware of her daughter's severe allergies and even provided them with instructions and medicine in the event that Johnson should have a reaction.

Despite all of that, the mother says the school released statements to parents and the media, implying that she was to blame for the girl’s death.

Court documents stated:

“In the days following Amarria’s death, when Ms. Pendleton was seeking answers to, and grieving from, the loss of her daughter, the Defendants undertook a public-relations smear campaign to deflect away from school and health officials, and onto Ms. Pendleton, responsibility for Amarria’s death. The Defendants falsely implied, inferred, and/or insinuated, through direct statements, omissions of relevant facts, and use of innuendo, that Amarria’s death was caused by Ms. Pendleton’s alleged inactions — specifically, failing to provide necessary information and medications to Amarria’s school.

In truth, as noted above, Ms. Pendleton had completed necessary paperwork and had provided Amarria’s EpiPen Jr. to the Hopkins clinic assistant.

Defendants’ false statements — made by inference, implication, and/or insinuation — caused Ms. Pendleton to be pilloried by the public.

Ms. Pendleton did attempt to explain her actual actions to the public.

Her single voice, however, was not heard above the chorus of false statements spread by the Defendants, whose falsities were bolstered by the Defendants’ employment positions, and were repeated over and over in the media.

Persuaded by the Defendants’ characterization of events, countless individuals, including the parents of other Chesterfield County Public Schools (“CCPS”) students, concluded and declared that Ms. Pendleton was a bad mother — the most hurtful and disparaging of labels.”

Pendleton’s attorney, Mark Krudys, said his client was “very pleased” with the news that her case will finally be taken to court,

“In its opinion, the Supreme Court of Virginia affirmed what it has long held — that defamation by innuendo — implying materially false things about a person, is just as legally actionable as referring to them in a direct manner,” Kurdys said.

The trial will take place in the city of Richmond. A date has not yet been set for Pendleton’s defamation lawsuit but her wrongful death lawsuit against Chesterfield School is scheduled to begin in October in Chesterfield County Court.

Photo Credit: Screenshot from WVTR, WikiCommons