Should Pret a Manger pay compensation to the family of the teenager who died after eating a Pret sandwich?

3 October 2018

The simple answer to this question is yes, and I would hope that they already have.

This week the media has been full of the tragic story of Natasha Ednan-Laperouse, the teenager who died on an aeroplane after having an allergic reaction to a Pret a Manger baguette.

The Inquest heard that Natasha had a sesame seed allergy, and that the allergen Natasha was allergic to was not listed as an ingredient on the labelling.  A warning about the dangers of not signposting the allergen had been given to the Pret chain in the previous year.

The Chief Executive of Pret, Clive Schlee, made an apology that was no doubt very genuine, and said that the company wanted to see meaningful change.  I sincerely hope that something good can come out of this tragedy, and that better standards will be developed.  However, as a solicitor who has spent nearly 30 years dealing with cases involving all sorts of personal injury cases, I do sometimes wish that there could be more foresight, and less hindsight.

Pret a Manger seems to be a responsible business.  It provides good quality food, and its staff are always very pleasant and helpful.  It also has the appearance of being an ethical business, run by intelligent and thoughtful people.  It is therefore disappointing to think that when they were discussing the food labelling laws, they realised that they could take advantage of regulations designed for smaller businesses.  No doubt there was a cost saving for them, which is a fair enough consideration in any business.  However, it is not so fair if it also carries a higher risk for the health – and indeed the lives of the customers that the company wants to attract.

I am disappointed in Pret.  An ethical business should aim for more than just the minimum of legal compliance.  Those regulations set the bar very low, and Pret is a big and sophisticated operation that sells millions of sandwiches, and it could have afforded to have much higher, and much safer standards.

There has been no mention in any of the press coverage about whether the family sued Pret.  Given that Pret had complied with the unfortunately very low legal standards, it would probably have been very hard for the family to establish liability.  Had they been able to do so, they would have been able to recover compensation for their bereavement, and for Natasha’s father as a secondary victim, due to the terrible trauma that he experienced.

A successful compensation claim would have also enabled them to recover the costs of their legal representation at the Inquest.

My guess is that there has been some sort of out of court settlement, which included legal costs.  I would add that even if legal liability was not established, the morally correct thing would have been for Pret to agree to pay both damages and legal costs for the family. It would also have been better for the public image of the company.

In saying this, I realise that no amount of damages can ever compensate a family for a loss such as this, but real financial hardship can sometimes follow a tragedy, and families have to be taken care of.

I hope therefore that Pret have had the decency to do the right thing, and that regardless of legal niceties, they have done all that can be done to atone for their error of judgment.

And as for the rest of us – the British public – we should demand more from the businesses that depend upon our custom.  We should use our buying power to let them know that the strength of their brand depends upon doing far more than the bare legal minimum, and that if they want our continued support they must be able to demonstrate that they are doing all that they can to safeguard and protect us.  We are supposed to be valued customers, and I would have thought that the first objective of any business – particularly one that sells food -  should be “do no harm”.

Further information

Terrence Donovan is the Head of the Clinical Negligence and Personal Injury Team at Kingsley Napley.  If you have been affected by any of the issues discussed in this blog, you can contact him at tdonovan@kingsleynapley.co.uk.  Alternatively you can contact us on 0207 814 1200 or email us at enquiries@kingsleynapley.co.uk.

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