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Athlete sues Panera, says Charged Lemonade left permanent heart damage

A third lawsuit against Panera over its Charged Lemonade alleges the company's drink caused irreversible health issues.
Athlete sues Panera, says Charged Lemonade left permanent heart damage
Posted at 7:04 PM, Jan 19, 2024

Lauren Skerritt was a healthy, athletic 27-year-old hoping to soon start a family with her husband. Then she drank Panera's Charged Lemonade, and, according to her lawsuit against the company, her future forever changed.

The occupational therapist alleges she was an active gymgoer with no medical conditions until she drank 2 1/2 cups of the beverage on April 8, 2023. Soon after, she says she began experiencing sudden, rapid heart palpitations, landing her in a Rhode Island hospital's critical care unit where she first received treatment for atrial fibrillation — an irregular heartbeat that can lead to serious health problems like strokes.

Now Skerritt claims she has permanent cardiac injuries and episodes, bringing with them a slew of symptoms like shortness of breath, brain fog and a tremor in her left hand. Her daily life now includes taking medication to regulate her heart rate and rhythm, and her plans to have children with her husband have been put on hold due to the likelihood of having a complicated, high-risk pregnancy.

This is the third time Panera has been sued over its Charged Lemonade in recent months, with each suit filed by attorney Elizabeth Crawford claiming the company's reckless design and misrepresentation of the drink and its ingredients — namely its caffeine content — led to permanent damage in its consumers, including death.

According to its nutrition facts, Panera's Charged Lemonade contains 260 milligrams of caffeine in a regular size and 390 milligrams in a large. If a person were to drink 390 milligrams of caffeine in the form of Red Bull, they would have to consume nearly 3 1/2 12-ounce cans, which each contain 114 milligrams of caffeine. 

The lemonade also contains multiple other stimulants, including coffee extract and guarana extract, and 82 to 124 grams of sugar — the lesser of which is equivalent to over 20 teaspoons of sugar.

Both of the first two suits against Panera claimed their loved ones — a 21-year-old student with a heart condition and a 46-year-old with high blood pressure — would likely still be alive if Panera had properly regulated and advertised the Charged Lemonade with regards to its true ingredients.

The student, Sarah Katz, abstained from ingesting caffeine but drank the beverage advertised as "plant-based and clean" at a Pennsylvania Panera, believing it to be a traditional lemonade or sports drink, her lawsuit said. She soon after suffered cardiac arrhythmias and ultimately two cardiac arrests, resulting in her death.

In the second case, supermarket employee Dennis Brown, who lived independently with disabilities, died after going into cardiac arrest while walking home from a Florida Panera, where he had three refills of a Panera Charged Lemonade — unknowingly ingesting at least 780 milligrams of caffeine. 

In her lawsuit, Skerritt claims she was a fit person before consuming the drink, regularly playing soccer and completing Spartan and other obstacle courses. Also a healthy eater, she said she chose to consume a Charged Lemonade due to its description as "plant-based and clean," like Katz. But later that day, she had three episodes of heart palpitations and nearly fainted.

Since then, Skerritt claims she's had "recurrent episodes of rapid heartbeat that occur suddenly and without pattern," leaving her with brain fog and body weakness. This, she alleges, has left her unable to exercise, socialize or perform in her career as she once did.

Although not a wrongful death suit like the other two, Skerritt similarly alleges Panera's failure to warn consumers of the drink's "unreasonably dangerous" formulation left her with the continuous and permanent heart problems that began the day she drank the lemonade. 

Panera has not commented on the most recent lawsuit. 

It did share a statement with NBC News following Katz's case, saying, "We were very saddened to learn this morning about the tragic passing of Sarah Katz, and our hearts go out to her family. At Panera, we strongly believe in transparency around our ingredients. We will work quickly to thoroughly investigate this matter." 

Soon after, the company added a warning on its online menu for its Charged Lemonades, saying they contain caffeine, should only be consumed "in moderation" and were not for kids, pregnant or nursing women or those sensitive to caffeine.

After Brown's case, Panera released another statement saying the company "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. 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."

SEE MORE: FDA reviews case of student's death after drinking 'charged lemonade'

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