Panera Bread Company's "Charged Lemonade" product is now the subject of a second wrongful death lawsuit claiming a lack of warning about the caffeinated beverage's ingredients led to a customer suffering a fatal cardiac arrest.
The second lawsuit, filed Monday in Delaware, states 46-year-old Dennis Brown died in September after going into cardiac arrest while walking home from a Florida Panera, where he had three refills of Panera Charged Lemonade, unknowingly ingesting at least 780 milligrams of caffeine.
It's a similar story to that of 21-year-old Sarah Katz, whose family sued Panera in October after Katz suffered two cardiac arrests and later died after drinking a large Charged Lemonade, which they claim she didn't know contained high levels of caffeine and sugar.
In both cases, the now-deceased Panera customers had conditions that their families claim led them to stay away from drinking large amounts of caffeine: Katz had a heart condition, and Brown had high blood pressure. Both lawsuits claim that if Panera had properly regulated and advertised its Charged Lemonade with regards to its ingredients, the customers would not have consumed it and, therefore, likely wouldn't have suffered the deadly cardiac arrests.
In a statement to WSBT-TV Monday, a Panera spokesperson said: "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. 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."
Brown's family describes him as a lover of animals and a passionate advocate for community safety and inclusion for people with disabilities.
Along with his high blood pressure, Brown lived with ADHD, a developmental delay and a chromosomal deficiency disorder that caused him to have a mild intellectual disability and blurry vision. But his family says his with help from them and his "loving life coaches," Brown was able to live independently and be "gainfully employed."
At the time of his death, he was nearing 17 years as an employee at Publix Super Markets, where he loved to "share words of comfort" to customers while packing their bags and walking them to their cars, they said in the lawsuit.
After his shifts at Publix, Brown would often go to Panera Bread — up to three times a week, the lawsuit states. A creature of habit, he was also known to drink three beverages in a row.
This habit became deadly when Brown began ordering the restaurant's Charged Lemonade, starting on or about Sept. 27. He again ordered the mango yuzu citrus flavor Charged Lemonade the following day, then again on Oct. 2, 4, 5, 7 and 9.
The lawsuit claims Brown consumed the lemonade "reasonably confident it was a traditional lemonade containing a reasonable amount of caffeine safe for him to drink."
Per receipts in the lawsuit, Brown last ordered a charged lemonade on Oct. 9 at 3:29 p.m. He stayed at the Panera Bread for 90 minutes, refilling his cup an additional two times during that span.
Text messages in the lawsuit show he left Panera at 5:16 p.m. and began to walk home. During that walk, Brown suffered a cardiac arrest. He was found unresponsive on the sidewalk at 5:45 p.m. and was pronounced dead at the scene.
Brown's mother, sister and brother — who are the plaintiffs in the new lawsuit — allege Panera's Charged Lemonade is dangerous and that the company knew in its design and formulation that it could lead to injury.
The suit claims this "negligent, intentional, fraudulent, reckless" behavior led to Brown's death, namely due to the company’s lack of warning to consumers about the Charged Lemonade's ingredients.
"The Panera Charged Lemonade is an unregulated beverage which includes no warning of any potentially dangerous effects, even the life-threatening effects on blood pressure, heart rate, and/or brain function," Brown's family's lawsuit states.
Though Panera has now put a warning on its website about its Charged Lemonades saying they should only be consumed "in moderation" and stating they contain caffeine, the suit claims when Brown went to the restaurant, the "energy drink" was offered side by side with the restaurant’s uncaffeinated or less-caffeinated beverages. It alleges the drink was offered with no warning of a difference in its contents, even advertised as a "plant-based and clean" drink with as much caffeine as its Dark Roast coffee.
But according to its nutrition facts, Panera's Charged Lemonade contains 260 milligrams of caffeine in a regular size and 390 milligrams in a large. The caffeine content of a Dark Roast coffee from the company contains 268 milligrams in its largest size, which has as many fluid ounces as a regular-size lemonade, according to the lawsuit.
The levels of caffeine in a large Charged Lemonade exceed the amount of three regular cans of Red Bull, which each have 114 milligrams of caffeine.
Additionally, Panera's Charged Lemonade contains multiple other stimulants, including coffee extract and guarana extract, as well as 82 to 124 grams of sugar, the latter of which is equivalent to nearly 30 teaspoons of sugar.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration says 300 milligrams is typically a safe amount of caffeine for "healthy adults" to consume each day, and it recommends limiting sugars to 10% of total calories eaten in a day, meaning 50 grams for a 2,000 calorie diet.
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