The mother of a US teenager yesterday sued Monster Beverage Corporation alleging that his death in 2012 following a cardiac arrhythmia was a direct result of his drinking Monster Energy.
Yesterday, Paula Morris filed her complaint before the Superior Court of California, Alameda County, describing Monster Energy ($1.3bn sales in 2011) as “part of a dangerous yet still growing array of energy drink products in the marketplace”.
Morris seeks to recover damages from Monster relating to alleged injuries suffered by her 19 year-old son Alex and damages as a result of his wrongful death.
Monster hit back in a statement sent to BeverageDaily.com yesterday, insisting "there is nothing in this lawsuit that links the death of 19 year-old Alex Morris to the consumption of energy drinks".
"This lawsuit is yet another example of how plaintiff lawyers can make any allegation in a lawsuit, regardless of whether or not there is a factual basis for that allegation or allegations."
Morris claims that, during the 24 hours prior to his death in the early morning of July 1 2012, Alex drank at least two 16oz (473ml) cans of Monster Energy.
During the preceding three years, he regularly drank at least two Monster Energy drinks per day, she maintains, with total daily consumption during this period ranging from at least 32oz-64oz per day.
‘Massive amounts of caffeine’?
While engaged in sexual activity with his girlfriend that morning, Alex collapsed and suffered a cardiac arrest, and despite resuscitation efforts was later pronounced dead in hospital.
Morris’s filing quotes a report on emergency visits involving energy drinks, which states that Monster Energy drinks are marketed as providing “increased energy and stamina, weight loss and enhanced physical and/or mental performance” (November 2011, Dawn Report).
“In order to provide the marketed benefits, Monster Energy contains and relies primarily upon massive amounts of caffeine, a substance known for imposing adverse health effects upon consumers,” she states.
Citing a Committee on Nutrition and the Council of Sports Medicine and Fitness paper, Sports Drinks and Energy Drinks for Children and Adolescents: Are They Appropriate? (127 Pediatrics 1183, 2011), Morris said that caffeine could be lethal in doses ranging from 200-400 milligrams (mg).
However, Monster has in the past cited a December 2011 study in the American Journal of Medicine , which concluded that caffeine in moderate doses is well tolerated by most patients with known or suspected arrhythmia.
But Pelchovitz et al. add drip and instant coffee typically provides 65-175mg/cup, but states that human blood pressure increase at 250mg, and references the “lethal dose” for LD50 (50% of the population) estimated at 10g for oral administration.
Referencing a database maintained at Energyfiend.com, Morris claims that two 16oz cans of Monster Energy contain 320mg of caffeine (10mg/floz); Monster has repeatedly claimed that a 16oz coffeehouse-brewed coffee contains 330mg.
‘Pound it down’ or ‘Tear into’ a Monster
Moreover, she cites scientific claims that combining caffeine with guarana and taurine “can produce significant adverse health effects, including cardiac arrest” (Higgins et al. 2010).
Monster Energy increased the risk of caffeine overdose due to inadequate labelling, Morris alleges, that “does nothing to attempt to warn of these severe health risks”, and she claims that despite known health risks the drinks are heavily marketed towards teenagers and adults.
Despite knowing the “significant risk” associated with its drinks, Morris adds, Monster Energy prided itself on encouraging consumers to “tear into” a drink or “pound it down”, “thereby encouraging consumers to speedily and hastily ingest this dangerous product”.
Beyond failing to warn consumers of the potential risks of drinking Monster Energy, Morris alleges, she also claims that the brand failed to conduct adequate clinical testing or market surveillance regarding its adverse effects on cardiovascular health.
But Monster insists, in its statement: "There is no coroner's report cited that suggests his [Alex Morris'] cardiac arrest was called by drinking a Monster Energy Drink."
No causal connection links Monster to death: company
Instead, the lawsuit admits that Morris consumer the firm's drinks for years without incident, Monster said, with no causal connection established between his consumption and the cardiac arrest.
In March Monster Energy addressed allegations in a similar lawsuit filed after the death of a Maryland teenager by employing a group of medical experts to examine her medical evidence.
In a later press conference Monster said its experts agreed that there was “no medical or scientific evidence that would support a finding that the death of Anais Fournier was causally linked to consumption of Monster Energy drinks”, the firm’s attorney, Daniel Callahan, said.
Around 50bn energy drinks have been drunk worldwide safely for approximately 25 years, Monster added in today's statement, including 9bn cans of Monster.
*Article updated 27/6/13 to include Monster comment.