Monster Beverage Corp. Hit with Wrongful Death Lawsuit, FDA Investigation
The parents of a 14-year-old girl who allegedly died after consuming two 24-ounce Monster Energy® drinks in a 24-hour period have filed a wrongful death and strict product liability lawsuit against Monster Beverage Corp. in a California state court. Crossland v. Monster Beverage Corp., No. RIC 1215551 (Cal. Super. Ct., Riverside Cty., filed October 17, 2012). They claim that the teen went into cardiac arrest and was placed in an induced coma at Johns Hopkins Hospital to reduce brain swelling. After six days, life support was terminated, and the girl died. The plaintiffs allege that the autopsy report attributed her death to “cardiac arrhythmia due to caffeine toxicity complicating mitral valve regurgitation in the setting of Ehlers-Danlos syndrome.”
The complaint contends that two of the company’s energy drinks contain
480 milligrams of caffeine, the equivalent of 14 12-ounce cans of caffeinated
soda. Among other matters, the plaintiffs allege that the company classifies
its beverages as dietary supplements to avoid “meaningful regulation of
its product by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration [FDA],” fails to warn
consumers about known risks and side effects of consuming the products,
and “failed to conduct adequate testing, studies or clinical testing and
research, and similarly failed to conduct adequate marketing surveillance
regarding MONSTER ENERGY’s adverse effects upon the cardiovascular health
of consumers.” Claiming that the company “heavily markets” its products to
teens and young adults, the complaint also targets other product ingredients,
including guarana and taurine, which the plaintiffs assert have synergistic
effects with caffeine on human health, such as cardiac arrest.
Alleging strict liability (design defect and failure to warn), negligence (design,
manufacture and sale), negligence (failure to warn), fraud, breach of implied
warranties, willful disregard for the health and safety of consumers (punitive
damages), and wrongful death, the plaintiffs seek compensatory damages for
past medical expenses, funeral and burial expenses, past and future mental
and emotional distress, interest, attorney’s fees, and costs.
According to news sources, FDA disclosed, after the lawsuit was filed, that
it had received notice since 2009 of five deaths purportedly related to the
consumption of the company’s caffeinated beverages and was conducting an
investigation. FDA spokesperson Shelly Burgess reportedly said that it was not
yet clear that the drinks actually caused or contributed to the adverse events.
Still, FDA responded in August 2012 to Senator Dick Durbin’s (D-Ill.) request
that the agency take action on energy drinks by indicating that caffeine intake
of up to 400 milligrams per day is not associated with untoward health effects
for most healthy adults. Additional information about FDA’s response appears
in Issue 451 of this Update.