Actress' family awarded $29.5M after allergic reaction to peanut butter pretzel caused brain damage

The family of an aspiring actress and model who was left brain-damaged after suffering a serious allergic reaction to a pretzel infused with peanut butter was awarded nearly $30 million by a Las Vegas jury.

On Feb. 20, 2013, then-27-year-old Chantel Giacalone went into anaphylactic shock after biting into the peanut butter pretzel while modeling clothes at a fashion trade show at the Mandalay Bay South Convention Center, the Las Vegas Review-Journal reported.

The paper reported that Giacalone’s friend brought her a frozen yogurt and put the bite-sized pretzel on top. Giacalone, unaware it contained peanut butter, went into anaphylactic shock after taking a bite.

In a three-week civil trial, her family was awarded $29.5 million when the jury found that the responding ambulance service negligently treated her allergic reaction. 

FILE - Actress Chantel Giacalone attends the world premiere of "Skyler" at Laemmle's Music Hall 3 on March 25, 2011 in Beverly Hills, California. (Photo by Beck Starr/FilmMagic)

Giacalone is now quadriplegic, has to be fed through a tube and can only communicate with her eyes, the newspaper reported. Jack Giacalone and his wife provide 24-hour care to their daughter.

"At least my daughter will be taken care of. I’m happy about that," he said after the verdict was read on Friday. "All the anguish that we’ve been through for the last eight years, I’m not happy about. I just hope MedicWest changes their ways."

Giacalone's lawyer, Christian Morris, said she lost oxygen to her brain for a period of minutes after seeking treatment from MedicWest Ambulance, which was running the medic station that day.

Morris argued that neither of the two medics on-site that day had IV epinephrine, an adrenaline treatment for severe allergic reactions that is required by the Southern Nevada Health District. According to testimony during the trial, the requirement was established by a task force the company sits on.

Morris said the medics instead deployed intramuscular epinephrine, but IVs are required for full anaphylaxis.

He argued the cost of the drug was only $2.42. The lawsuit was seeking more than $60 million in damages for medical expenses and emotional suffering.

"Every minute of Chantel’s life has been inextricably altered," Morris said in closing arguments. "Every single minute since she walked into that medic room to a company that chose profits over patient care."

MedicWest denied any wrongdoing and said the outcome was inevitable because of Giacalone's heightened sensitivity to peanuts. Attorney William Drury argued Giacalone never lost consciousness.

The oldest of three siblings, Giacalone graduated from an art school in Chicago and was living in Los Angeles at the time of her allergic reaction, according to the newspaper. She had been launching her acting career with roles in productions such as the 2009 movie "The Butterfly Effect 3: Revelations," the 2015 movie "Hollow Walls," and "Skyler" in 2012.

Giacalone, now 35, is expected to live until the age of 55, the Las Vegas Review-Journal reported. 

Jack Giacalone told the newspaper that the money awarded to the family will be invested in her future care and a new home that is more conducive to her needs. They also would like to make a donation to a foundation for people suffering from similar brain injuries.

This story was reported from Cincinnati. The Associated Press contributed.