Anais Fournier of Hagerstown, and Alex Morris of Oakland, Calif., lived a continent apart, but they had two things in common: they were both teenagers and they both consumed Monster Energy drinks before their sudden deaths.
That’s Silver Spring attorney Kevin Goldberg’s contention. He represents the families in two wrongful death suits against the beverage maker, which owns a third of the $10 billion U.S. energy drink market.
“Our goal is to stop the sale of energy drinks to minors, to force the energy drink companies to provide consumers with adequate warnings and to have energy drinks regulated by the [Food and Drug Administration], like other caffeinated products,” he said.
Anais Fournier was 14 at the time of her death in 2011. Goldberg said she drank two 24 ounce cans of Monster within 24 hours and went into cardiac arrest. “The autopsy of Anais indicates that she died of cardiac arrhythmia due to caffeine toxicity,” he said. No trial date has been set.
Alex Morris drank at least two 16 ounce cans of Monster in the 24 hours before his death, a daily habit he had for some three years, said Goldberg, who filed suit June 25 in Alameda County Superior Court.
Critics like Goldberg say energy drinks can be deadly to people with undiagnosed heart conditions. They say children should not consume caffeine, but that Monster targets children by sponsoring extreme sports events and by using its Monster Army social networking site to promote its product as a sports performance enhancing drink.
But Morris was not a minor.
“They marketed to him when he was a child,” Goldberg said.
Monster representatives did not respond to a request for an interview. But the company has said that it doesn’t market to children (Monster’s definition of a child is someone under 13) and that the caffeine content in its drinks is no higher than a cup of Starbucks coffee.
Goldberg argued that energy drinks are “consumed and metabolized differently” than coffee or soda. “They’re gulped rather than sipped,” and that the pop tops and large openings in some containers encourage drinking in one sitting.
The FDA is looking into a number of reports of death linked to energy drinks, including five connected to Monster. But the agency cautioned that there is not necessarily a causal connection.
“But we do have reason to ask questions about whether vulnerable populations, children, adolescents, might be at risk for these products,” Michael Taylor, an FDA deputy commissioner, said last month on the Diane Rehm Show.
In addition to the wrongful deaths suits, Goldberg has filed a class-action lawsuit against Monster in Washington, D.C., “for violating consumer laws,” he said. “For failing to tell the public what’s in its energy drinks and for failing to disclose the dangers.”