Woman who had severe allergic reaction at Canyon Ranch sues resort in federal court
SPRINGFIELD — What was supposed to be a luxurious $3,000 weekend at a Lenox resort turned into a life-or-death crisis for a New York City woman after she was served a veggie burger containing cashews, which triggered a severe allergic reaction that put her in the hospital.
That's part of a claim in a federal lawsuit filed against the owners of Canyon Ranch Wellness Resort in Lenox.
The suit, which named CR Resorts LLC, was filed Wednesday in U.S. District Court in Springfield. It contends the guest, Kristin Chu Smart, informed numerous staff at the resort, including her server, she was highly allergic to nuts and was assured there were none in the food she was being served.
"I actually thought I was going to die," Smart said in a statement released by Woburn-based attorney Laurel J. Francoeur, who is representing Smart and her mother, who accompanied her on the trip. "The inexperience of the Canyon Ranch staff by providing inaccurate information and serving cashews to my client with a nut allergy could have cost Ms. Smart her life."
Cashews are commonly referred to as nuts and can trigger severe allergic reactions, but they are technically seeds because they are not contained within a hard shell.
The suit makes several claims including negligence, breach of warranty, breach of contract and intentional and negligent infliction of emotional distress, and seeks unspecified damages and court costs.
Responding to a request by The Eagle for comment on the suit, a spokeswoman for Canyon Ranch replied: "We do not comment on matters in litigation."
Smart and her mother made reservations to stay at Canyon Ranch the weekend of Dec. 8, 2017. They paid $3,060 for that stay, according to court files.
On Nov. 16, 2017, Smart responded to a health questionnaire from Canyon Ranch, in which she detailed her food allergies.
On Dec. 2, Smart received an email from Canyon Ranch's food and menu development coordinator, acknowledging those allergies and telling her the ingredients in all of the food served were listed in a packet that she would receive when she arrived.
A copy of the email and the information packet were also included in court documents.
Smart and her mother checked in on Dec. 8 and a staff person who, according to the suit, was aware of Smart's dietary restrictions, encouraged the pair to have a quick meal at Canyon Ranch's cafe before other activities began.
"Neither the packet nor the information received by email nor any staff member informed Ms. Smart that she should not dine at certain restaurants during her stay due to her food allergies," the lawsuit states.
Smart also informed her server at the cafe about her allergies and that she had to avoid all nut products due to a risk of anaphylaxis.
The server referred to their own copy of the packet and assured Smart that no nuts were in the veggie burgers, which Smart ordered.
Smart asked again when the food arrived if there were nuts present and was told there were not.
She began to eat and noticed the symptoms of anaphylaxis, including itchiness in her throat, swelling and a tightness in her face and she again asked her server if there were nuts in her food and again told no.
As her symptoms became worse, she sought assistance at the resort's medical center, but the doctor declined to administer epinephrine because the doctor had no experience with the EpiPen, a common device used to administer medication to counter the allergic reaction, according to the suit.
Smart ultimately had to inject herself with the device as her symptoms worsened. She also requested two doses of Benadryl to combat the symptoms.
An ambulance was called to take Smart to a hospital and her condition continued to worsen during the trip, including vomiting and wide fluctuations in her blood pressure.
A second ambulance met the first one en route and a paramedic came on board Smart's ambulance and began administering IV fluids and medication.
By that point, Smart's blood pressure had dropped to 88 over 39.
Smart was treated at Berkshire Medical Center and was prescribed corticosteroids and an antihistamine.
The resort's director checked with kitchen staff and was informed cashews were "always" used in the veggie burgers.
According to the suit, the director sent Smart an email apologizing for "this unacceptable error on our part."
A copy of the email was included in court documents.
The cafe's staff failed to notify the chef of Smart's allergies and didn't confirm with the kitchen that the food was safe for her to eat, the suit states.
According to the suit, Canyon Ranch "advertises its services with phrases implying that patrons will `Become stronger. Healthier. Truly well,' and that Canyon Ranch staff will `help you navigate and claim your own wellness," part of the suit reads. "Based on the horrific incident Ms. Smart experienced, nothing could have been farther from the truth."
This is not the first time the resort has been sued in federal court.
Canyon Ranch in 2008 was forced to pay $14.75 million to hundreds of employees who claimed the resort denied them tips they were owed, according to the New York Times.
Bob Dunn can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, at @BobDunn413 on Twitter and 413-496-6249.