Wrongful Death Case Study: The Panera Bread Charged Lemonade Lawsuit

In April 2022, in an attempt to capture a slice of the 21-billion-dollar energy drink market, Panera Bread introduced a new beverage product line, “Charged lemonade.” Charged lemonade is a beverage that contains sugar, caffeine, coffee extract, and guarana extract. It comes in three flavors and was marketed as “plant-based and clean with as much caffeine as our Dark Roast Coffee.”

Charged lemonade is believed to have caused the death of a 21-year-old college student and a 46-year-old Florida man, according to the lawsuits filed by a US-based law firm. The lawsuit said that Panera misled consumers by not correctly labeling Charged Lemonade and did not specify what size of Panera Dark Roast coffee was akin to.

Undiluted, a charged lemonade has about 13 milligrams of caffeine per ounce. A large lemonade is about 30 ounces; each beverage would contain approximately 390 milligrams of caffeine per serving. For reference, a 12-ounce can of Red Bull contains 114 milligrams of caffeine, while a Monster Energy drink contains 160 milligrams of caffeine. A charged lemonade contains double that.

On September 10, 2022, Sarah Katz, a student at the University of Pennsylvania, consumed a charged lemonade at a Philadelphia Panera location and later suffered a cardiac arrest. In an autopsy report obtained by CNN, the medical examiner cites Katz’s cause of death as a cardiac arrhythmia due to long QT syndrome (LQTS). LQTS is a type of cardiac arrhythmia that disrupts the heart’s normal rhythm and electrical activity, which may lead to sudden cardiac death from episodes of ventricular tachycardia. Katz had a history of Long QT Type 1 Syndrome and managed her symptoms by taking medication and limiting her caffeine intake.

Figure 1: Normal Electrocardiogram VS. LQTS

In the realm of legal proceedings, cases involving wrongful death suits carry much responsibility and are often emotionally complex. The lawsuit involving Panera Bread’s Charged Lemonade raises questions about product safety, responsibility, and establishing direct causation and negligence—such cases present challenges that demand comprehensive analysis, combining medical expertise and legal scrutiny.

A legal nurse consultant is perfectly positioned to dissect the complexities included in the medical records and would deploy a multi-faceted approach:

Medical Review: Focusing on the client’s medical history, toxicology reports, lab findings, medication history, previous hospitalizations, lifestyle, and autopsy findings. An LNC would assess the interaction between the client’s health condition and the effects of the over-caffeinated lemonade.

Product Analysis and Safety Standards: An LNC would investigate the ingredients, caffeine levels, and potential hazards of consuming that amount. The FDA (Food and Drug Administration) notes that 400 milligrams daily, about four to five cups, is not generally associated with dangerous side effects. However, there is wide variation in how sensitive people are to the effects of caffeine.

Establish Causation and Negligence: A legal nurse consultant is prepared to identify the potential links between caffeine consumption and cardiac arrest and give the case merit.

Expert Witness Location: An LNC works with attorneys and expert witnesses, contributing their medical insights and initial findings. They would assist with forming strategies, highlighting key points, and preparing the correct documentation to support a medical-legal argument. 

Bridge Point Legal Nurse Consulting can help medical malpractice and personal injury attorneys unravel the complexities of wrongful death suits by investigating and meticulously analyzing medical records in pursuit of establishing a link between the product in question and tragic events.

References:

Dolmetsch , C. (2023, December 19). Panera Charged Lemonade Deaths Put Renewed Focus on Energy Drink Safety. https://www.msn.com/en-us/money/companies/panera-charged-lemonade-deaths-puts-renewed-focus-on-energy-drink-safety/ar-AA1lKadV

Office of the Commissioner. (2023, September 7). Spilling the beans: How much caffeine is too much? U.S. Food and Drug Administration. https://www.fda.gov/consumers/consumer-updates/spilling-beans-how-much-caffeine-too-much#:~:text=For%20healthy%20adults%2C%20the%20FDA%20has%20cited%20400,how%20fast%20they%20metabolize%20it%20%28break%20it%20down%29.

Rothenberg, E. (2023, October 23). Panera faces lawsuit over “charged Lemonade” energy drink after 21-year-old’s death. CNN. https://edition.cnn.com/2023/10/23/business/panera-lawsuit-charged-lemonade-death/index.html’

Valerie Creel

Valerie Creel

Valerie Creel is the owner of Bridge Point Legal Nurse Consulting. Valerie has been an RN since 2013 and has extensive experience with Critical Care, having been in ICU for the entirety of her Nursing career. Valerie has worked with Trauma, Neuro, and Medical ICU patients including providing care through the Covid-19 pandemic. In addition to her nursing experience, she worked providing prehospital care in the 911 system of San Mateo County from 2007-2014. She had the opportunity to work with complex trauma and multi-casualty incidents including the Asiana Airline Crash at SFO in 2013. Valerie holds her board certification in Critical Care and earned her Bachelors Degree from Grand Canyon University. She has been working in the legal nursing field since 2021 and has completed her coursework to specialize in Strangulation. She will also complete her Forensic Nurse Certification by the beginning of 2023. In her spare time, she loves spending time with her family and two young daughters and husband. She also enjoys being outdoors, fitness, and cooking.