Panera Bread, a popular restaurant chain, is facing a lawsuit over its caffeinated lemonade drink, which allegedly caused the death of a 21-year-old student with a heart condition. The lawsuit claims that Panera Bread misled consumers by not properly labeling the drink as an energy drink and by marketing it as a “clean” and “plant-based” beverage. The lawsuit also accuses Panera Bread of negligence, wrongful death, and breach of warranty.
The Drink: Charged Lemonade
Charged Lemonade is a drink that Panera Bread introduced in 2022 as part of its Unlimited Sip Club, which offers customers unlimited refills of drinks at any size every two hours with the purchase of a monthly or yearly subscription. The drink comes in three flavors: Fuji Apple Cranberry, Strawberry Lemon Mint, and Mango Citrus.
According to Panera Bread’s website1, Charged Lemonade is the “ultimate energy drink” made from “clean caffeine” sources like guarana (an Amazonian plant) and green tea extract, with as much caffeine as their dark roast coffee. The drink’s 20 ounce regular sizes contain between 65 and 82 grams of sugar and 260 milligrams of caffeine, while the 30 ounce large sizes have between 98 and 124 grams of sugar and 390 milligrams of caffeine.
The Food and Drug Administration recommends “healthy adults” not to exceed consuming more than 400 milligrams of caffeine a day2. Health professionals have warned that young people who consume energy drinks can encounter dangerous side effects, such as dehydration, irregular heartbeat, and heart failure3. People with certain heart conditions could be more sensitive to the stimulating effects of these drinks, and could be more susceptible to adverse effects.
The Victim: Sarah Katz
Sarah Katz was a 21-year-old student at the University of Pennsylvania, who had a heart condition called long QT syndrome (LQTS). LQTS is a disorder that can cause fast and irregular heartbeats that can be life-threatening, according to the Mayo Clinic4. Katz was diagnosed with LQTS when she was five years old, and managed symptoms by taking medication and limiting caffeine, the lawsuit states.
In September 2022, Katz went to a Panera Bread location in Philadelphia with her friends and ordered a Charged Lemonade. She was unaware of the high amount of caffeine in the drink, as she believed it was a regular lemonade or an electrolyte sports drink. She also did not see any warning signs or labels on the drink dispenser or the cup that indicated it was an energy drink.
After drinking the Charged Lemonade, Katz experienced cardiac arrest while at a restaurant with her friends and died after being transported to the hospital and suffering a second arrest, according to the lawsuit. In an autopsy report obtained by CNN5, the medical examiner cites Katz’s cause of death as cardiac arrhythmia due to LQTS.
The Lawsuit: Katz v. Panera Bread
Katz’s parents filed a wrongful death suit against Panera Bread on October 23, 2023, in Philadelphia. The lawsuit alleges that Panera Bread failed to inform consumers about the nature and risks of Charged Lemonade, and that it misrepresented the drink as a “clean” and “plant-based” beverage. The lawsuit also alleges that Panera Bread was negligent in providing adequate warnings, instructions, and information about the drink, and that it breached its implied warranty of merchantability by selling a defective and dangerous product.
The lawsuit seeks compensatory and punitive damages for Katz’s death, as well as injunctive relief to prevent Panera Bread from continuing to sell Charged Lemonade without proper labeling and warnings. The lawsuit also demands that Panera Bread conduct a recall of Charged Lemonade and issue a public apology to Katz’s family.
“We were very saddened to learn [yesterday] morning about the tragic passing of Sarah Katz, and our hearts go out to her family,” Panera Bread told Forbes6 in a statement. “At Panera, we strongly believe in transparency around our ingredients. We will work quickly to thoroughly investigate this matter.”
The Implications: Consumer Protection and Accountability
The lawsuit raises important questions about consumer protection and accountability in the food and beverage industry. How should energy drinks be regulated and labeled? How should consumers be informed about the ingredients and effects of these drinks? How should companies be held responsible for the safety and quality of their products?
The lawsuit also highlights the potential dangers of energy drinks for young people, especially those with underlying health conditions. How should parents and educators educate young people about the risks of energy drinks? How should health professionals monitor and treat young people who consume energy drinks? How should society support young people who suffer from energy drink-related complications or fatalities?
The lawsuit is expected to go to trial in 2024. The outcome of the case could have significant implications for Panera Bread, as well as for other companies that sell energy drinks. The case could also have an impact on the public awareness and perception of energy drinks, as well as on the policies and regulations that govern them.