Panera faces second lawsuit over death of man from charged lemonades

Last December, CB talked about Panera’s Charged Lemonade energy drink. The drink contains almost 300mg of caffeine, which makes one single drink equal to almost three cups of coffee. It also has more caffeine and sugar than Red Bull or a Monster energy drink! It’s like someone who works at Panera’s corporate office drank a Starbucks Refreshers and said, “Let’s make these, only with four times the amount of caffeine.”

In October, the family of a 21-year-old who passed away after drinking a Charged Lemonade filed a lawsuit against Panera. The young woman, Sarah Katz, had a heart condition called QT syndrome and actively avoided energy drinks because of the health risks that caffeine and other stimulants posed. The lawsuit included photos of the menu and beverage dispensers, which showed that the Charged Lemonade was advertised as a “plant-based and clean” beverage that contained as much caffeine as a dark roast coffee. Sadly, a second person with pre-existing conditions has also passed away after drinking Charged Lemonade. His family is also suing Panera for wrongful death, alleging that he also avoided energy drinks for health reasons.

Panera Bread is once again being blamed for causing someone’s death with its highly caffeinated “Charged Lemonade” energy drink. The family of 46-year-old Dennis Brown has filed a wrongful death suit against the chain this week, alleging that Brown’s heart-related death in early October was caused by the drink. It’s the second such claim made against the company this year, but Panera has denied responsibility for either death.

This latest lawsuit was filed by Brown’s mother and siblings in the Superior Court of Delaware, though the actual death took place in Fleming Island, Florida. According to the suit, Brown had been a long-time fan of the chain, but only recently began to regularly drink Charged Lemonades. On October 9, he reportedly ordered the drink and refilled it twice before starting to walk home. During the walk, he experienced an ultimately fatal “cardiac event.”

Brown was known to have a chromosomal deficiency disorder that left him with mild intellectual disability and blurry vision, but he was living independently. He also had high blood pressure, which may have contributed to his death. According to a death certificate shared by the family’s lawyers and viewed by the New York Times, Brown died of a “cardiac arrest due to hypertensive disease.”

The wrongful death claim is the second filed against Panera in about two months. In late October, the family of 21-year-old Sarah Katz alleged that her fatal cardiac arrest in September 2022 was similarly instigated by the energy drink. Both families are being represented by the law firm Kline & Specter.

Like Brown, Katz was known to have a pre-existing cardiovascular condition: long QT syndrome. It’s generally recommended that people with such conditions moderate their consumption of caffeine and other stimulants commonly found in energy drinks since it might raise their risk of heart problems.Both families claim that Brown and Katz actively avoided energy drinks, but that Panera’s marketing did little to appropriately warn customers about the Charged Lemonade’s high caffeine content.

According to the company’s website, the large Charged Lemonade is estimated to contain about 390 milligrams of caffeine—just below the 400 milligrams a day cap recommended for most people by the Food and Drug Administration. However, the lawsuits note that workers are expected to mix the drink on site, which could lead to varying amounts of caffeine per serving. They also allege that Panera did not clearly label the lemonade as an energy drink, instead comparing its caffeine content as similar to their Dark Roast coffee.

Following the initial lawsuit, Panera claimed that it would display “enhanced” disclosures about the high caffeine content of their Charged Lemonade. But at least for the time being, Panera is denying any direct culpability for either Brown or Katz’s deaths.

“Panera expresses our deep sympathy for Mr. Brown’s family,” Panera said in a statement responding to the second lawsuit. “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.”

[From Gizmodo]

This is so, so sad. It’s scary and frustrating how restaurants and companies will deceptively market something. Even if they list the amount of caffeine, does the average person really know what the suggested daily intake of caffeine is? We grew up with things like sugar being villainized but values are not usually attached to define “too much caffeine.” Panera absolutely needs to get the word out better that the Charged Lemonade is not a lemonade with caffeine, but a lemonade-flavored energy drink. In the meantime, the drink’s dangers need to go viral on Tik Tok or various social medias. *Clears throat.* Back in my day, we knew what drinks had too much caffeine in them because our parents said it would stunt your growth (it doesn’t) and kids at school would repeat the (unfounded) rumors of their effects on male fertility. Our condolences go out to the two families who have lost their loved ones. Hopefully, Panera takes this seriously by putting actual warnings out there and lowering the drink’s caffeine levels in general.

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48 Responses to “Panera faces second lawsuit over death of man from charged lemonades”

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  1. Abby says:

    I have not had this drink at Panera, but a friend of mine, who doesn’t drink coffee, has and she didn’t realize just how much caffeine it has until she got really jittery.

    I drink a lot of coffee in a day–I don’t do energy drinks. But I moderate how much coffee I drink, and when, to avoid the downsides of too much caffeine.

    I feel like they should emphasize how much caffeine it has in their promotional materials. It sounds like this is a dangerous drink!

    • bros says:

      this is awful and it is happening accidentally to kids as well whose parents dont read the tiny fine print, such as my son’s dad. Two times now with the Celsius drinks, where the caffeine content is completely hidden unless you scrutinize the tiny printed ingredients, and at wawa with their ‘energy refreshers’ and they don’t explicitly advertise that this product contains caffeine in large print so parents know. ‘Charged’ and ‘energizing’ are deceptive and not accurate and there should be more legislation around these caffeinated drinks.

  2. Bettyrose says:

    I don’t understand what the point of the product is. 300mg of caffeine?? Plenty of people drink that over the course of a day but not in one sitting. I feel dizzy and nauseous just thinking about it (sadly my three cups a day is down to 1/2 cup because I’ve lost my tolerance for a thing I used to love).

    Who is the market for this product?

    • Lara (the other) says:

      And why are they not advertising the coffein contend?
      Why add so much if your target aren’t people who want to consume hight levels of coffein?

    • Jensies says:

      I also wonder who this is for and also whyyyyy can people get refills? That’s just asking for these events to keep happening.

  3. I’m on the fence with this because if you know you have a problem with stimulant drinks why risk having something named charged or any of those kind of drinks. I can’t have caffeine because of blood pressure so I don’t drink anything with caffeine and check carefully the labels and don’t t drink anything that doesn’t have a label or I can’t get the info on but that’s just me.

    • Kitten says:

      Yeah I agree. I absolutely do think that Panera should be more transparent about how much caffeine is in their beverages. I also think that if I had a heart condition, I’d probably just avoid any and all caffeine–just too risky. In the end, it’s all really sad. I feel for the families because this never had to happen.

    • OriginalMich says:

      The operative word isn’t “charged” it is “lemonade.” I doubt most people would think twice about something called “lemonade” having caffeine in it.

      Beyond that, it wasn’t labeled as being “charged” with a stimulant. It was labeled as being “plant-based and clean.” “Charged” in that context could mean added vitamins and antioxidants.

      • Becks1 says:

        Especially when DD and Starbucks offer similar drinks with much smaller amounts of caffeine IIRC. this drink is clearly meant to compete with those.

        I’m glad that people on here are all such savvy consumers, but the people working at Panera are not experts in what they’re selling and if you’re there during the lunch or dinner rush, you’ll probably get a response like “oh there’s some caffeine in it, same as a cup of coffee” and that’ll be it.

      • Kitten says:

        I don’t mean to push back on this too hard because again, I feel that these people are victims to a degree but I think if you have a heart condition, you DO become a very savvy consumer. Same if you have a food allergy or diabetes or any number of dietary issues. If something you consume could potentially land you in the hospital or worse yet dead, you become a VERY critical consumer. If in doubt, pass on it.
        What’s tough is that people who have underlying heart conditions, to my knowledge, CAN safely consume small amounts of caffeine so if the victims assumed or were misled to believe that this was lightly caffeinated lemonade, then you can see how something like this could happen. Again, very sad.

      • BlueNailsBetty says:

        The operative word *is* “charged”. In today’s world that implies something is boosting it (in this case, caffeine). Any reasonable person with a *medical condition* would know to just ask “why is it called charged?”

      • Becks1 says:

        @Kitten – you say this:
        “What’s tough is that people who have underlying heart conditions, to my knowledge, CAN safely consume small amounts of caffeine so if the victims assumed or were misled to believe that this was lightly caffeinated lemonade, then you can see how something like this could happen.”

        This is exactly the issue here. Based on my reading, neither victim’s family is alleging that they cannot have ANY caffeine. They know they cannot have as much as what’s in an energy drink, but if Panera was marketing this as an alternative to coffee, then it seems they were going out of their way to downplay the amount of caffeine here. the one victim drank three of these before leaving the restaurant – and yes, it says he had cognitive disabilities, but that doesn’t mean Panera doesn’t have a duty here.

    • Kittenmom says:

      I read somewhere that the gentleman who died may have had some cognitive disabilities due to a genetic condition. He probably wouldn’t have been aware of the implications of “charged.”

    • Mel says:

      I’m with you here. I would have asked a few questions before putting that in my mouth. Why is it “charged”? I drink one cup of coffee per day and that’s it. 300mg of caffeine would probably have me running around in circles for two weeks straight. So unnecessary. People don’t check so for Pete’s sake when you have products like this, full disclosure should be available on the menu, the glass, everything.

    • BlueNailsBetty says:

      Honestly, I don’t understand this either. The word “charged” implies (to me) caffeine. Also, it sounds like the alleged caffeine content was available on the labels. I can’t imagine seeing that info and drinking it when I know I have a medical issue with my heart.

      If Panera clearly had caffeine content (even a “contains caffeine” note) on the label/menu then I don’t see how this lawsuit is valid. And even if it was a little vague, if you have a medical condition that can kill you if you ingest too much caffeine it is your responsibility to read labels and ask questions and when in doubt, don’t order it.

      • BlueNailsBetty says:

        I just read below that the original labels didn’t have much info on them. Can anyone confirm whether the pre-lawsuit labels stated they had caffeine in them?

      • bros says:

        I disagree that ‘charged’ automatically implied caffeinated to the consumer. it needs to be plainer and more explicit. kids are drinking it too because it is not understood.
        also, it’s possible that someone got this man a drink and he didnt buy it himself. I run in panera all the time and get other people’s orders.

      • Becks1 says:

        Like I said I ordered one a few months ago. I do all my panera ordering through the app. I can’t remember for sure if it said it had caffeine, but knowing me it probably did not. If I want caffeine I just drink coffee or a soda. I think I thought “charged” meant carbonated, like it was a fizzy lemonade.

    • bros says:

      he was intellectually disabled. independent enough to go to panera and pick out a drink but not a necessarily savvy consumer in terms of parsing their euphemistic moniker for their drink. I do not understand why it is not extremely transparent on the cups and on the dispenser in big bold writing: this product contains high amounts of caffeine and put the mg in plain view.

  4. Karlie says:

    So sad. I remember being cautious of the 200-300 mg per day of cafffeine while pregnant. There’s so many people who avoid caffeine for various reasons. This seems highly irresponsible. With coffee or tea or coke people expect caffeine. Lemonade, not so much.

  5. Karla says:

    I realise that I sound as old as I am but there should be General shift to just drink water with your food intakes and treat all those sweet and „soft“ drinks as what they are: sweet treats like a dessert.

    And the industry should stop promoting chemicals as „clean“ and „Natural“ and stop shoveing them in people‘s face everywhere.

  6. Becks1 says:

    I had one of these a few months ago – maybe late summer? I was fine, but I am overall healthy and I had it around noon, so if it affected my sleep I did not notice it (I am fairly sensitive to caffeine when it comes to sleeping, I don’t drink any caffeine after 1, 2 oclock if I know I’m going to have a late night for some reason.)

    Anyway a few weeks ago I was ordering lunch from Panera and I thought “oh I’ll have that again” and then there was a big warning on it about the caffeine levels so I thought well maybe not. But those warnings were definitely not there the first time I ordered it, I try to avoid even coke or iced tea bc of the caffeine, def no energy drinks – I never would have ordered it.

    All that to say that I feel horrible for these families but I can understand how this happened, the drink was definitely NOT presented as an energy drink.

  7. Miranda says:

    …but these are adults we’re talking about. Allergies and sensitivities are a pain in the ass, but if they’re something you live with, you have to be vigilant and advocate for yourself, and plenty of children learn to do this at an early age. I’ve dealt with 1st and 2nd graders who, when snacks are passed out at school, know to ask, “does this have ___ in it?”

    I’m kind of curious as to exactly what people are thinking the word “charged” means, in the context of food or drink, because to me, it has very clear connotations of “energizing”, and in an unpleasant way, at that. I’m not particularly sensitive to caffeine, but I dislike it and would absolutely avoid this drink based on the name alone.

    • D says:

      I feel similarly on the fence about it. I’m so sorry that those 2 people lost their lives, it’s awful and the families are angry and want justice. However, it’s literally called Charged. I can’t speak to how it was marketed because I’ve never really heard of it, but I would be wary of any of those drinks (Starbucks, DD, etc.) because they all have caffeine in them and certainly one called Charged. It’s basically like a Red Bull. All of that said, I am militant about reading labels and not everyone is, so there should be some responsibility on the company’s part to disclose that information in some way. Panera used to have all of the nutritional information on a pamphlet so I’m sure it was on there, which might be their “out” for this lawsuit. The onus is probably on the user to make an informed decision.

    • Pinkosaurus says:

      In this context, if the caffeine content was not labeled, I think it would be a reasonable interpretation that “Charged” meant vitamin infused or similar. If it was called “Energy” instead, I think it would be less likely to be confusing. I’m sure these cases will settle eventually with no admission of guilt but these families still lost someone because of a single mistake or oversight.

      • Bettyrose says:

        A standard cup of drip coffee has 60mg of caffeine. And it’s normal for coffee drinkers to have several cups. A three shot latte has around 200mg. A hardcore caffeine junky might have two of these over the course of a day. What could possibly be the justification for 300mg in one drink without proper labelling? Best case scenario, as many have described here, you have one, dislike it and never order it again. It seems like a questionable product all around.

      • SarahCS says:

        I would have had no idea that ‘charged’ meant caffeinated.

        I really don’t understand the rationale for putting that much caffeine in anything. As others have said, if this is an ‘energy’ drink, surely market it like that?

      • Turtledove says:

        I think if I didn’t know anything about this story, my interpretation of the word “charged” could go either way. Those saying “it’s obviously caffeinated” aren’t wrong in my opinion, but neither are those that say they would assume it was full of vitamins like C nd B12. I would think the latter would be even more a common assumption in a Panera. (vs say a Dunkin Donuts)

        I feel awful for the families, and it does sound like these drinks were marketed really poorly.

        But my biggest takeaway is the same as someone above, what possessed them to offer a drink with 300mg of caffeine in ONE serving? WHO is the audience for that? At PANERA? To me, Panera is a place where the 9-5 working crowd grab a quick lunch, mommy groups meet up, and people grab an easy to go dinner on a hectic night.

        I just googled: One Serving (16oz) of Monster Energy Drink has 160 mg of caffeine. Let that sink in. It’s kind of irresponsible to offer these drinks at all, even WITH proper labeling. These belong in truck stops for long haul drivers that are feeling sleepy. Or on campuses during finals week.

  8. Snuffles says:

    I have a genetic sensitivity to caffeine. My body can’t process it well. I learned that from DNA tests. But I was told by a counselor in college to avoid having too much of it because it might induce panic attacks. There was one time I was at high tea and I drank a whole pot of delicious Tahitian vanilla tea. I ended up getting the shakes and heart palpitations and thought I was going to die. It was a rough night and I’ve never touched caffeine since.

    I’ve always felt these energy drinks had dangerous levels of caffeine. I don’t think there is adequate enough warning on them. Because SO many people pound multiple energy drinks daily. I’m surprised this doesn’t happen more often.

  9. JP says:

    I had gotten one of these a while back when I was at my local Panera getting lunch. I think I got the yuzu one (it was tasty). But, I had absolutely no idea that they contained caffeine. The dispensers weren’t labeled beyond the flavors, and it’s not the type of beverage you’d expect to contain any caffeine at all.

  10. Somebody Nobody says:

    Panera is in the process of lowering the amount of caffeine listed in the nutritional information for these drinks to “account for dilution from melting ice.” This doesn’t account for people like my husband who don’t use any ice or people who down the whole thing before the ice melts. So they’re actually going to make it more deceptive.

  11. Giddy says:

    I just checked Panera’s online menu. On the charged lemonades it says “ Contains caffeine, use in moderation, NOT RECOMMENDED FOR CHILDREN”. The caps were theirs. They also list calorie content. If they listed caffeine content it would help people who are sensitive to caffeine. I feel great sympathy for these families, but shouldn’t personal responsibility be considered?

    • Chloe says:

      I think the article says that the warnings were added after the first lawsuit was filed. It was deceptively marketed as having as much caffeine as one cup of coffee beforehand.

      • BlueNailsBetty says:

        Thank you for the info, that answers one of my questions. Did the labels indicate caffeine at all?

    • Abby says:

      When this drink was launched it had none of that on the description. I’m glad they’ve updated it to emphasize the caffeine content.

    • Becks1 says:

      That label/warning is new after the first person died.

  12. Bumblebee says:

    It’s sold in a restaurant marketed as a healthy alternative to fast food. And the drink is lemonade, which is typically a children’s drink, so people trust it’s safe. The word ‘charged’ can mean so many different things. You put a dangerous amount of caffeine in a kids drink and use ambiguous marketing, there’s going to be problems. Panera made some really stupid decisions here.

    • Dara says:

      That Panera markets itself as a healthy alternative really pisses me off. I looked at their nutritional values one day and the sodium amounts were obscenely high for their soups and most of their sandwiches, as was the saturated fat content in a lot of their baked goods and even their salads. Anyone with risk factors like high cholesterol, high blood pressure, or diabetes should avoid that place except as a rare treat. I used to work with people that would grab lunch there several times a week because they thought they were being healthy. Getting a soup and 1/2 sandwich there is just as bad as going for the burger and fries down the road.

  13. Angie says:

    My local Panera moved the entire charged lemonade kiosk to behind the pickup counter. Doesn’t seem sus at all, Panera!!

  14. Mabs A'Mabbin says:

    My thoughts on this aren’t popular. As consumers, we have our own responsibilities. That’s all I’ll say.

  15. Mandy says:

    To me “Charged” could mean “carbonated” as in “charged water” like Perrier. They need to label with transparency especially with that obscene level of caffeine!

  16. Flamingo says:

    I just went on the website it clearly states it has caffeine and the amount of caffeine per drink. I don’t know if it had that before the deaths. But at least it isn’t hidden now.

  17. Robert Phillips says:

    The girl knew she had the heart condition. And knew the drink had caffeine in it. Maybe not how much but she knew it had it. So no that is on her. If you know you have reactions to something you ingest. Then you know you have to be careful at a restaurant. If you don’t know what’s in it. Then don’t get it. The guy had some mental issues supposedly. But that still doesn’t make it the responsibility of the restaurant. They can’t police everything they serve. Or watch every customer they have. You have to take some responsibilities for yourself.

  18. Andrea says:

    I’m drinking a charged blood orange right now. I drink a charged drink everyday. I know the risks, I read the LARGE CAUTION SIGNS. These drinks are too sweet so I dilute with a gallon of water but if they weren’t too sweet I would restrict my intake. The idi-ot’s drank an excessive amount and did not heed the warning labels. So now instead of walking into Panera and grabbing a cup and fill it with a charged drink I have to wait in line inside or out and ask someone to fill it. All because people choose to ignore ingredient warning. That chick who died family is completely lying about her EXTREME diligence in consuming caffeinated beverages. BULLONEY. not buying that line of BS

    • Becks1 says:

      The LARGE CAUTION SIGNS weren’t ‘there before the first victim died. There were NO WARNINGS for them to “choose to ignore.”

      honestly, I would not expect any drink sold at panera to have the potential to kill me.

      FFS this is like the McDonald’s hot coffee incident all over again.

  19. BeanieBean says:

    This is terrible, yes, but…it’s called ‘charged lemonade’ for a reason. If you know you have a heart condition, and you specifically avoid energy drinks because of this, wouldn’t you, I don’t know, suspect that something called ‘charged’ might have caffeine? Or at least ask, what makes this ‘charged’?

    • Duchess of Corolla says:

      I agree with you. This has been all over the news recently and, as someone who gets a drink at Panera every day, I can assure you that the caffeinated nature of the charged lemonade is prominently advertised.

      If you have health risks, perhaps it is better to have water unless you are absolutely sure what you are getting.