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.
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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.”