October 25, 2012
This surge in popularity has not been followed by a commensurate surge in research and awareness into the potential effects of the heightened levels of caffeine of these drinks, which often contain several times the amount of caffeine contained in sodas such as Coca-Cola.
This is especially poignant among adolescents, among whom the drinks are especially popular, but who are also more readily affected by the increased caffeine content.
But how bad could a little extra caffeine be for adolescents?
According to a lawsuit filed last week, very bad.
The complaint is being brought by two individuals, Wendy Crossland and Richard Fournier, against Monster Beverage Corporation for the death of their 14-year-old Anais Fournier in December of 2011.
According to the complaint (which quotes the autopsy report), Anais’ death was caused by “cardiac arrhythmia due to caffeine toxicity” – caffeine toxicity, the complaint claims, that was caused by Anais’ ingestion of Monster’s products.
So just how many of Monster’s products did Anais consume before her death?
Just two 24-oz Monster Energy Drinks within a 24 hour period, according to the complaint.
The first of these was consumed on the evening of December 16, 2011, and the second was consumed the following afternoon.
Anais went into cardiac arrest a few hours after her second Monster drink.
She was unconscious when medical personnel arrived, and was induced into a comatose state to reduce brain swelling.
She was in this state for six days until “the decision was made to terminate life support;” she died shortly thereafter.
Hot Doc: Crossland v. Monster Beverage Corp.
In their lawsuit, her parents allege seven torts; among them are several product liability causes of action, a fraud one, and, of course, a wrongful death cause of action.
At the outset, the claim that depends upon the least number of factual variables is the “failure to warn” product liability and negligence ones.
Regardless of any freak medical occurrences or of any preexisting conditions on Anais’ part, Monster should have added warning labels about the possible side effects of such high caffeine intact.
This is especially true considering that Anais’ total intake was not exorbitantly or unreasonably high.
In fact, according to the complaint, Monster bills the drinks as one that consumers “can really pound down” – in other words, encouraging them to quickly drink the beverage.
If consuming two Monster drinks within a 24 hour period could be enough to kill a 14-year-old girl, Monster needs to say as much on its product labels – even if the death was contributed to by a preexisting medical condition.
Speaking of which, that factual issue is going to undoubtedly be one of the biggest.
As mentioned above, the complaint quotes Anais’ cause of death right out of the autopsy report, but there’s more than what I originally wrote:
“cardiac arrhythmia due to caffeine toxicity complicating mitral valve regurgitation in the setting of Ehlers-Danlos syndrome.” [emphasis added]
I’m neither a doctor nor a med mal attorney.
However, if Anais’ preexisting Ehlers-Danlos syndrome contributed to her death, it’s certain that Monster will emphasize (or overemphasize) that fact as much as possible.
How much of an impact it actually had on her death will be a question for the finder of fact.
Again, though, the question of preexisting conditions will have little impact on the product labeling causes of action (assuming that the allegations in the complaint about the inadequacy of the product labels are true).
Irrespective of the lawsuit’s outcome, it would be prudent for Monster to add some extra warning labels to their products.
Hopefully, such warning labels would be enough to prevent future tragedies such as what happened to Anais Fournier.