Disney faces lawsuit over allegations of doctor's fatal allergic reaction

By Stephanie Srakocic | Fact-checked by Davi Sherman
Published March 1, 2024

Key Takeaways

  • A New York physician died of anaphylactic shock after dining at a Disney World restaurant. 

  • The physician had multiple severe food allergies and was allegedly assured by restaurant staff that her meal was allergen-free.

  • Her husband is now suing Disney World for negligence in her death.

Every year in the US, people are impacted by food allergies. In fact, 33 million Americans have food allergies, and each year, 150 people in the US die from allergic reactions related to food. Unfortunately, physicians are not immune from food allergy reactions. In October 2023, a physician died in a Walt Disney World resort from a food allergy. []

Late last year, New York physician Dr. Kanokporn Tangsuan, her husband, Jeffrey Piccolo, and Piccolo’s mother dined at Raglan Road Irish Pub & Restaurant in Disney Springs—part of the Walt Disney World resort. The group reportedly chose the restaurant because they believed it would be able to accommodate Tangsuan’s severe food allergies.[]

A waiter at the restaurant assured Tangsuan and her family that the chef could make her meal allergen-free. After finishing dinner, Tanguan collapsed to the floor while at Planet Hollywood. Despite self-administering an EpiPen, she died from anaphylaxis after being rushed to a nearby hospital. Elevated levels of nuts and dairy were found in her system.[]

Jeffery Piccolo is now suing Walt Disney Parks and Resorts and Raglan Road Irish Pub & Restaurant for negligence in the death of his wife. According to the lawsuit, the couple questioned their waiter that night about multiple menu items to see if they could be made allergen-free. Tangsuan had severe allergies to both nuts and dairy. Reportedly, the waiter checked with the chef and confirmed that certain food items could be made allergen-free.[] 

The lawsuit states that the couple confirmed “several more times” that certain foods could be allergen-free. Tangsuan ordered onion rings, a vegan fritter and shepherd’s pie, and scallops. Some of the food lacked allergen-free flags used to designate safe items, but the waiter assured the group that all food was allergen-free.[]

Tangsaun was on her own when she collapsed on the floor of Planet Hollywood. Her mother-in-law called her to meet up with her but could not reach her. When she returned to the hotel, she called Tangsuan again. The lawsuit states that someone answered this call and informed Dr. Tangsuan’s mother-in-law that she had been taken to the hospital.[]

Tangsuan died of anaphylaxis at the hospital. The medical examiner’s report found elevated levels of nuts and dairy in her system.[]

The lawsuit alleges that Raglan Road failed to train and educate its employees properly, that the employees failed to properly warn Tangsuan about allergens in her food, and that the employees failed to prepare the food without allergens as requested. Piccolo is seeking over $50,000 in damages for Tangsuan’s wrongful death. Brian Denney, an attorney for Piccolo, said that part of the reason Piccolo is bringing this case forward is to prevent similar incidents from happening in the future.[][] 

“Jeff is devastated over the premature death of his wife. This never should have happened had proper protocols been followed,” Denney said.

The suit emphasizes this point: "Disney advertises and represents to the public that food allergies and/or the accommodation of persons with food allergies is a top priority at its parks and resorts.”[]

The Walt Disney World Resort’s policy on food allergies states: 

"At Walt Disney World Resort, we take great pride in providing choice and variety for Guests with special dietary requests. You can request to speak with a chef or a special diets-trained Cast Member at most table-service and select quick-service restaurants. In most cases, no advance arrangements are needed. While restaurants make reasonable efforts to accommodate dietary requests, we cannot guarantee that they will be able to meet all requests."[]

Most Walt Disney World restaurants can accommodate the following common allergy-friendly requests and intolerances without any advance notice:

  • Eggs

  • Fish

  • Milk

  • Peanuts

  • Sesame

  • Shellfish

  • Soy

  • Tree nuts

  • Wheat

Walt Disney World Resort has not commented on the lawsuit.  

When physicians become the patients

It’s possible for physicians to miss signs and symptoms in themselves that they’d diagnose or educate patients about. Studies have found that physicians face higher levels of burnout and experience greater risks of stress-related mental health problems when compared to others in their age group. Burnout and stress can exacerbate the symptoms of many conditions; it can also make it harder to take the time to treat them.[] 

Writing on physician burnout for the American Academy of Family Physicians, Dr. Catherine Florio Pipas, MD, MPH, stated, "As I've coached physicians over the years, I have noticed that they often pride themselves on their “superhuman” status – able to work all day without the need to eat, sleep, or exercise. Denying physical needs is like a badge of honor in medicine, but it also contributes to an empty tank and negatively affects our ability to care for others."[]

Dr. Pipas also noted that there can be stigma around seeking care in the medical field. Hospitals and healthcare facilities are often places where everyone is working long and intense hours. In this environment, it can be hard for physicians to recognize signs of their own stress and fatigue.

“The stigma around mental health and self-care often limits professionals from seeking help or even acknowledging they need a break. Additionally, despite having the knowledge and skills to diagnose and treat others, physicians do not effectively recognize burnout in themselves,”  Dr. Pipas wrote.

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