Panera Faces Wrongful Death and Health Problems Lawsuits Over Charged Leomande
Panera Bread faces multiple lawsuits over the role its Charged Lemonade may have played in several customers’ deaths.
Mainly known for its fresh bread and an alternative to fast-food chains, Panera Bread has gained attention for its highly caffeinated Charged Lemonade. In the restaurants, self-service drink stations contain standard soda machines. Other drink options include Panera brand lemonades and teas—including its Charged Lemonades, which the restaurant promotes as a “clean” option to soda.
However, the dispensers don’t overtly show the excessive amount of caffeine and sugar in the drinks. If you’re in a hurry or have a child pouring their own drinks, you may miss the “charged” part of the drink name. It may also not be clear what charged means as far as ingredients. It’s this oversight that generated multiple wrongful death lawsuits against Panera.
Two deaths connected to Panera
In October, the Food and Drug Administration released information concerning a death in connection to Panera’s Charged Lemonades. Back in 2022, Sarah Katz of Philadelphia died at just 21 years old. Her family filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Panera Bread for not displaying and contextualizing how much caffeine Panera’s Charged Lemonades contain. According to NBC News, Katz had “a heart condition called long QT syndrome type 1 and avoided energy drinks based on her doctors’ recommendation.” A week before Katz’s death, the lawsuit says she bought an Unlimited Sip Club membership for unlimited drinks for a set fee.
On September 10, 2022, Katz purchased and drank a Charged Lemonade. Within a few hours, Katz went into cardiac arrest and later died. Her roommate told NBC, “She was very, very vigilant about what she needed to do to keep herself safe. I guarantee if Sarah had known how much caffeine this was, she never would have touched it with a 10-foot pole.”
A second, unrelated, lawsuit was filed on December 4 by the family of Dennis Brown, a resident of Florida. According to NBC, 46-year-old Brown “had an unspecified chromosomal deficiency disorder, a developmental delay, and a mild intellectual disability” and avoided energy drinks due to high blood pressure. On October 9, 2023, Brown went to Panera, as he often did, and consumed three Charged Lemonades. Walking home, Brown had a heart attack and died. Brown’s mother and sister filed the lawsuit. The law firm representing them told NBC, that the family “hopes that this message gets out to prevent this from happening to another Dennis.”
Unsafe levels of caffeine
It’s unclear if the deceased mentioned in the lawsuits knew exactly how caffeinated Charged Lemonades were before consuming them. Charged Lemonade doesn’t look like what most customers would associate with a caffeinated drink. Instead of being dark like caffeinated sodas or coffee, the lemonades are light-colored like non-caffeinated fruity drinks normally are.
Panera says that the caffeine content of the drink has always been listed in stores but in October, it added “enhanced” disclosures. There are now warnings in-store and online advising the drinks are “Not recommended for children, people sensitive to caffeine, pregnant or nursing women.” However, some say that’s not enough.
Elizabeth Crawford, a partner at the Philadelphia-based law firm Kline & Specter, PC, who is representing Katz’s family, said Saturday that the verbiage does not provide context for the amount of caffeine in the drink, nor does it explain that it contains an additional stimulant.
“It’s misleading in the sense that it’s not indicating that it is an energy drink,” she said. “I’m happy that we are moving in a direction of making a change, but I consider these baby steps.”
Advertising for Charged Lemonade says the drinks are “Plant-based and Clean with as much caffeine as our Dark Roast coffee.” As reported by CBS “A large, 30-ounce Mango Yuzu Citrus Charged Lemonade contains 390 milligrams of caffeine and 124 grams of sugar, according to the suits filed against the company.” Panera’s website supports these numbers. Comparatively, a large dark roast coffee contains 268 milligrams of caffeine. A large Pepsi has 94 milligrams of caffeine. Average American energy drinks contain between 100 and 200 milligrams.
Keep in mind that the FDA recommends adults consume no more than 400 milligrams of caffeine a day. Allowing drinks that much caffeine in them, with unlimited refills, seems neglectful and dangerous.
Lawsuit claims Panera lemonade caused heart problems
After the wrongful death lawsuits against Panera, another concerning lawsuit was filed in early 2024. NBC News reported Lauren Skerritt, 28, filed charges against Panera after drinking the Charged Lemonade. Before drinking the lemonade, Skerritt had no underlying health conditions. Skerritt works as an occupational therapist and actively competes in athletic activities. The suit claims Skerritt drank 2.5 lemonades in April. Skeritt chose the lemonade “because it was advertised as ‘plant-based’ and ‘clean.'” Once Skerritt drank teh Charged Lemonade, she experienced heart palpitations and visited the emergency room.
Doctors diagnosed Skerritt with atrial fibrillation, “an irregular heartbeat that can lead to a stroke, heart complications, or other serious health problems.” According to the suit, Skerritt “continues to experience supraventricular tachycardia with associated shortness of breath, palpitations, brain fog, difficulty thinking and concentrating, body shakes, and weakness.” The issue caused Skerritt to postpone starting a family as atrial fibrillation will automatically result in a “high-risk pregnancy.” Panera maintains there is no correlation between their drink and any health problems Skerritt may have.
(featured image: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
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