The family of a model who was left brain-damaged after having a serious allergic reaction to a peanut butter-infused pretzel was awarded nearly $30 million by a Las Vegas jury.
Chantel Giacalone’s family was awarded the $29.5 million Friday when a jury found that the responding ambulance service negligently treated her in 2013, the Las Vegas Review-Journal reported.
“At least my daughter will be taken care of. I’m happy about that,” her father, Jack Giacalone, said after the verdict was read.
On Feb. 20, 2013, then-27-year-old Giacalone was modeling clothes at a fashion trade show at the Mandalay Bay South Convention Center when her friend bought her frozen yogurt and put a bite-size pretzel on top.
Giacalone, an aspiring actress, went into anaphylactic shock after taking a bite.
According to Las Vegas Review-Journal, Chantel Giacalone was in Las Vegas on Feb. 20, 2013, modeling clothes at the MAGIC fashion trade show at the Mandalay Bay South Convention Center. While working, her friend Tara Retes bought her frozen yogurt and put a bite-size pretzel on top.
Around 3 p.m., attorneys argued, Chantel Giacalone bit into the pretzel, not knowing it had peanut butter. She immediately called her dad, who told her to administer her EpiPen, ask Retes to get her Benadryl and seek medical care immediately. She did.
Based on phone calls, Morris said she could determine that the woman was in the paramedic room at 3:06 p.m., when she told Retes where to find her with Benadryl.
Retes testified that when she made her way to the medic tent, it was clear her friend couldn’t take the Benadryl. Her throat was closing, and she was black and blue. Her rings looked like they were about to pop off her swollen fingers. Retes sat on the cot in the medic tent with her, rubbed her back and told her she would be OK.
She remembers the words her friend repeated: “Don’t let me die. I don’t want to die.”
The family’s attorneys said the call for emergency dispatch didn’t happen until 3:11 p.m. — after Chantel Giacalone had passed out and stopped breathing.
But the medics testified that they called for advanced life support as soon as she came in because they knew her condition was serious. They said Chantel Giacalone was always breathing in their care.
MedicWest attorneys said the testimony was supported by the 3:11 p.m. call from medics to the Clark County Fire Department. That call reported a woman who “is breathing and having difficulty breathing.”
One of the company’s attorneys, Drury, argued that Chantel Giacalone couldn’t have been in the medic tent at 3:06 p.m., because she was on the phone for a total of 82 seconds at that time.
They argued that medics wouldn’t have allowed her to be on the phone while they treated her and that another call, from Retes at 3:11 p.m., must have been when Retes walked into the booth while her friend was telling her where to go.
But Retes testified that she made that call after she was told to leave the room. Morris said the call never connected.
Her 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.
During the three-week civil trial, Morris argued that neither of the two medics on-site that day had IV epinephrine, an adrenaline treatment for severe allergic reactions required by the Southern Nevada Health District.
The medics only had intramuscular epinephrine in their bags, which they used on Giacalone — but IVs are required when a patient is going into full anaphylaxis.
“Every minute of Chantel’s life has been inextricably altered,” Morris said in court. “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.
But, her dad said, “The truth came out. Because what happened in that room was nothing. They let my daughter linger.”
“All the anguish that we’ve been through for the last eight years, I’m not happy about,” Jack Giacalone said. “I just hope MedicWest changes their ways.”
At the time of the incident, Chantel had been launching her acting career, with roles in the 2009 thriller “The Butterfly Effect 3: Revelations” and the web series “Hollow Walls.”
Now 35, she is quadriplegic, has to be fed through a tube, and can only communicate with her eyes, according to the Review-Journal.
Her parents provide Chantel with 24-hour care. They said the money from the lawsuit will be invested in her future care and a new home that is more conducive to her needs.
*Cover image is representational only via Shutterstock