Carrots were regularly handed out to toddlers at a Hicksville school where a girl choked on a carrot and later died at a hospital, according to a lawsuit filed by the girl's mother.
The lawsuit for the first time publicly named one teacher at Carousel Day School, Marian Koumou, as the instructor who gave Olivia Raspanti, 2, and other children carrots on March 17.
It was "common practice" for the school to provide raw carrots to toddlers, the lawsuit said. The suit said Koumou "failed to exercise ordinary prudence."
While it is not explicitly illegal to distribute carrots at a day care center, Nassau prosecutors in May cited the easy availability of the vegetable when Carousel's owner and manager were charged criminally with reckless assault and reckless endangerment for creating an unsafe environment for children.
Nassau prosecutors, who have not charged Koumou, say Olivia was fed carrots by an instructor that day and she then found another in the instructor's bag, ate it and choked. She later died at Nassau University Medical Center. The criminal case is pending.
Koumou, along with Carousel owner Eugene Formica, its manager Kathryn Cordaro, and the business entity that formally owns the business, are named as defendants in the lawsuit. It was filed last month in Nassau State Supreme Court by Olivia's mother, Lisa Raspanti, seeking unspecified damages.
Formica, Cordaro and their attorneys did not immediately return messages Monday afternoon. Koumou, 48, of Hicksville, could not be reached.
The suit makes several claims that were also the basis for criminal charges made by prosecutors: that Olivia lay dying on the floor at Carousel while Cordaro told emergency responders that the incident was not urgent and asked that they come without lights; that Carousel's toddler program was unlicensed; that Lisa Raspanti was in a nearby room but was not told of her daughter's choking; and that an undertrained, understaffed school created an unsafe environment.
Although Formica has said he did not know he needed a state license to care for toddlers, the lawsuit said he had been advised by unidentified people of the need for a license and decided to forgo it "to maximize financial gain."
"This is a case about holding these people responsible," said Thomas Foley, a Garden City attorney for the Raspantis.
Carousel applied for a day care license this summer and was granted certification by the state Office of Children and Family Services this month.