BEMIDGI, Minn. (CNN) — A Minnesota family has filed a lawsuit against a restaurant for what they’re calling a fatal mistake.
They say they were told that the establishment’s pancakes were dairy-free. Their son had a severe dairy allergy and died after a meal at the restaurant.
Scott Johnson’s parents say his smile was brightest when he was left to explore Minnesota’s lakes and woods.
“He could light up a room,” mother Cindy Johnson said.
Scott was the second of four children in a family that always looked out for him.
“Every time I would pick something up, when I was shopping with my parents, I’d look at the label and be like, ‘can Scott have this?’” Scott’s sister Jaris Johnson said.
Scott suffered from a severe dairy allergy since birth. He had had scares before.
Small traces of dairy would be enough to send him to the emergency room. That’s why his family says eating at a restaurant became rare, and it would always be done with caution.
“If it wasn’t right, we didn’t eat until his was right,” Steve Johnson said.
On a weekday morning in June 2014, the girls wanted to treat their mom and brother to breakfast at the Minnesota Nice Cafe.
“We didn’t have to wait for a table. They knew us by name,” Cindy Johnson said.
The family’s lawsuit explains what they say happened next. Cindy Johnson asked the server if the restaurant’s gluten-free pancakes were also dairy-free. The server reported that they were, after checking with the cook. Cindy then told the server the grill would have to be cleaned before her son’s pancakes were made. Scott’s mom and sisters watched him eat two pancakes, thinking they were fine.
“He had just finished and he said ‘we have to go now,’” Cindy Johnson said.
Scott forgot to bring his EpiPen and nebulizer to the restaurant — the tools he’d used before to open his lungs and help him through an allergic reaction.
When the Johnsons got home, it became clear they weren’t working, and Cindy called 911.
“I was eighteen miles off the highway when I got the call,” Steve Johnson said.
On a road construction job two hours away, Steve got word his son would be airlifted to Fargo, Minnesota.
“Hardest thing for me was I didn’t even get to talk to him,” Steve Johnson said.
Doctors told his parents their son had suffered such a severe anaphylactic reaction, and his heart had failed. Scott died three days later.
“Sixteen years. That’s too short,” Steve Johnson said.
“I miss him just as much today as the day after,” Cindy Johnson said.
The Johnsons are sharing their story with the hope it will stop something like this from happening again.
“Ask questions. If you’re not sure, don’t do it,” Steve Johnson said.
“Just one mistake can take someone’s life,” Cindy Johnson said.