A college student didn’t think much about it when she ordered a lemonade from Panera Bread, but less than 24 hours later, she was dead. Her family says the drink, and Panera’s failure to properly label it, caused their daughter’s death.
Now they are suing the company for wrongful death. Can the family prove a lemonade killed their daughter?
An Ordinary Day Leads to a Tragic Death
September 10, 2022, was a fairly normal day for 21-year-old college student Sarah Katz. Katz was a student at the University of Pennsylvania and had recently purchased an Unlimited Sip Club membership from Panera Bread, which allows customers to pay a monthly fee for unlimited drinks.
Katz went to Panera to fill up a drink and chose a “Charged Lemonade.”
A few hours later, Katz collapsed while out at a restaurant with friends. Katz was rushed to the hospital where she went into cardiac arrest and died, according to NBC News.
The college student’s cause of death was determined to be cardiac arrhythmia due to long QT syndrome.
A Lifelong Avoidance of Energy Drinks
Katz and her family knew her heart didn’t function like other people’s hearts. At the age of five, Katz was diagnosed with the heart condition Long QT Type 1 Syndrome. “Long QT Syndrome (LQTS) is a rare disorder of the heart’s electrical system that can lead to dangerous heart rhythms, fainting, and sudden cardiac arrest,” says Stanford Medicine.
Katz took daily medication and made lifestyle choices to manage her disorder. She was aware that consuming drinks with high caffeine-levels was not good for her condition, and she avoided energy drinks. Katz’s family said she would not have ordered a Charged Lemonade if she knew it was an energy drink.
A wrongful death lawsuit filed by her family says Katz would have assumed caffeine was in the drink, but that she would have been unable to discern how much caffeine was actually in the drink. The suit says she would have been “reasonably confident it was a traditional lemonade and/or electrolyte sports drink containing a reasonable amount of caffeine safe for her to drink.”
The lawsuit says the caffeine level in Panera’s Charged Lemonade is actually more than a 12 oz. Red Bull and a 16 oz. Monster Energy Drink combined and that combination of caffeine is what killed their daughter.
Filing a Wrongful Death Lawsuit Against Panera
The failure to properly label the lemonade as an energy drink is at the heart of the wrongful death lawsuit the family filed in the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas.
The lawsuit alleges that Panera, “did not market, advertise, and sell Panera Charged Lemonade in the store as an ‘energy drink,’ which is a drink containing large amounts of caffeine, added sugar, other additives, and stimulants, such as guarana and/or taurine and/or L-carnitine (‘stimulants’).”
The Panera website described the drink as “the ultimate energy drink guaranteed to charge up your day” although the in-store signage was less clear.
Katz’s family says their daughter could not have known about the high levels of caffeine in the drink, according to Fox News 13. They are seeking “compensatory damages, punitive damages, interest, costs of suit, and such other relief as this Honorable Court may deem appropriate and just.”
Related: How Do You Sue for Wrongful Death?
What Does It Take to Win a Wrongful Death Case?
To prove fault in the wrongful death case, Katz’s family will need to show that Panera was aware of an unsafe condition but failed to act and that their inaction directly led to Katz’s death.
The lawsuit alleges that Panera knew the drink “could injure children, pregnant and breastfeeding women, and people sensitive to caffeine – including those with underlying heart problems – by causing catastrophic injuries and/or death” but failed to properly warn customers.
Since Katz’s death, Panera has changed some of the labeling on the drink. According to USA Today, Panera has added language to their website that says, “Use in moderation. NOT RECOMMENDED FOR children, people sensitive to caffeine, pregnant or nursing women.” It is unclear if the signage around the drink in stores has changed.
Get Justice for Yourself or a Loved One
Companies have a reasonable responsibility to inform customers about the potential dangers of their products and services. If you or a loved one have been injured due to the failure of a company to properly warn consumers, talk to a wrongful death attorney or personal injury attorney right away.
An experienced attorney can help you get justice for you or your loved one and hold the responsible parties accountable. If you have a case to discuss, request a free consultation with TJ Grimaldi. Call 813-226-1023 or contact our office today.