Panera Bread faces second wrongful death suit from caffeinated ‘charged lemonade’

Written by on December 6, 2023

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(NEW YORK) — Panera Bread is at the center of another wrongful death lawsuit after a Florida family claimed the restaurant’s caffeinated lemonade drink caused Dennis Brown to go into cardiac arrest.

The popular fast-casual chain issued warnings in late October and added signage on menus for the highly caffeinated “charged lemonade” beverages after a similar lawsuit alleged a woman died after drinking one.

In the wake of that death earlier this year, the restaurant chain at the time advised customers that the drinks contain “about as much caffeine as [Panera’s] Dark Roast Coffee,” and has cautioned customers to “use in moderation,” with disclaimers that it is “not recommended for children, people sensitive to caffeine, pregnant or nursing women.”

A standard order of Panera’s charged lemonade contains 13 milligrams of caffeine per ounce, but the iced drink did not previously account for possible ice dilution in its original nutrition descriptions on menus. ABC News has learned Panera is undertaking the process of updating its menu materials and information.

The 30-ounce large-size charged lemonade was previously listed on Panera’s menu as containing 390 milligrams at time of the first lawsuit, which is just 10 milligrams shy of the recommended daily maximum adult consumption amount of caffeine, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. The Panera menu now states the same drink contains 237 mg of caffeine.

The new lawsuit filed on Monday and obtained by ABC News, alleges that 46-year-old Brown, who was a member of the restaurant’s “sip club” that allows customers to order unlimited drinks, had consumed charged lemonades with his dinner at a Panera location near his job in Florida and later died while he was walking home.

The lawsuit states Panera advertised the plant-based “charged lemonades,” which come in three flavors, as taking lemonade to the next level with “clean caffeine” as an instant energy drink derived from guarana and green coffee extract.

According to ABC Atlanta affiliate station WSB-TV, Brown had a chromosomal disorder, and those close to him — including his supportive living coach, Deann Burgess — said that Brown “did not buy energy drinks or anything like that.” Brown’s family told WSB that Brown avoided energy drinks due to having high blood pressure.

Brown had been drinking charged lemonades for six days before he died, according to the lawsuit.

The suit further claims that the “unregulated beverage” purchased by Brown was “offered side-by-side with all of the store’s non-caffeinated and/or less caffeinated drinks; it was not advertised as an ‘energy drink’ nor were there any warnings to consumers.”

“Accordingly, Dennis consumed the Panera Charged Lemonade, reasonably confident it was a traditional lemonade containing a reasonable amount of caffeine safe for him to drink,” the suit declares.

“Upon information and belief, during his ninety-minutes at PBC, Dennis refilled his charged lemonade two additional times. Dennis had a known habit of drinking three beverages in a row,” the lawsuit further says.

Brown was found unresponsive on the sidewalk and pronounced dead at the scene on Oct. 9

“Panera expresses our deep sympathy for Mr. Brown’s family. Based on our investigation, we believe his unfortunate passing was not caused by one of the company’s products,” a spokesperson for Panera Bread told ABC News. “We view this lawsuit, which was filed by the same law firm as a previous claim, to be equally without merit. Panera stands firmly by the safety of our products.”

The FDA sent a written statement to WSB in Atlanta, writing, “The FDA is saddened to hear of the passing of a consumer and as always, takes seriously reports of illnesses or injury from regulated products.”

The agency added that it “generally does not comment on possible, pending or ongoing litigation” and “monitors the marketplace of FDA-regulated products and takes action as appropriate, including collaborating with the Federal Trade Commission regarding marketing claims.”

Family of college student sues Panera Bread over charged lemonade

The fast-casual eatery was previously named in a wrongful death lawsuit in Philadelphia in connection with the same caffeinated beverages after the family of University of Penn student Sarah Katz, 21, died of cardiac arrest after drinking charged lemonade from Panera.

“We were saddened to learn last week about the tragic passing of Sarah Katz. While our investigation is ongoing, out of an abundance of caution, we have enhanced our existing caffeine disclosure for these beverages at our bakery cafes, on our website and on the Panera app,” a spokesperson for Panera told ABC News then in a statement.

At age 5, Katz was diagnosed with Congenital Long QT Syndrome Type 1, which can result in potentially life-threatening abnormal heart rhythms due to potassium ion channels in the heart not working properly, disrupting the heart’s electrical activity.

According to the lawsuit, obtained by ABC News, at the time Katz drank the charged lemonade, it was not advertised by Panera as an “energy drink.”

“She was very aware of her health,” Katz’s roommate and friend Victoria Conway told Atlanta ABC affiliate WSB. “She was very vigilant to avoid caffeine. She never drank coffee.”

A regular 20-ounce serving size of the charged lemonade contained 260 milligrams of caffeine, and the large 30-ounce size contained 390 milligrams.

“Generally at lower doses, caffeine is not harmful, but at higher doses we begin to discuss the negative effects they can have on our body,” ABC News medical contributor Dr. Darien Sutton said. “The FDA recommends that the average adult drinks no more than 400 milligrams of caffeine a day.”

That amount, 400 milligrams a day — which is approximately four or five cups of coffee — is “not generally associated with dangerous, negative effects” for healthy adults, according to the Food and Drug Administration.

The FDA notes that there is a “wide variation in both how sensitive people are to the effects of caffeine and how fast they metabolize it,” especially for certain conditions and some medications, which the FDA says “can make people more sensitive to caffeine’s effects.”

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