The parents of an Ivy League student with a heart condition who died after she allegedly drank a “Charged Lemonade” from Panera Bread, is suing the fast-casual restaurant chain over the “unreasonably dangerous” energy drink.
According to the lawsuit, filed Monday morning in the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas and first obtained by NBC, the complainants argue that Panera Bread does not do enough to warn customers of the high level of caffeine in the drink. A large cup of Charged Lemonade has more caffeine, at 390 milligrams, than a can of Red Bull (77.4 mg) and a can of Monster Energy (160 mg) combined.
Sarah Katz, 21, was a junior at the University of Pennsylvania when she died on Sept. 10, 2022. An autopsy report found the cause of death to be cardiac arrhythmia due to long QT syndrome, a chronic heart condition that can cause fast, chaotic heartbeats, according to the Mayo Clinic.
Katz was diagnosed with the condition at age five, and avoided energy drinks throughout her life on doctor’s recommendations, according to the lawsuit.
Shortly before Katz died, she bought and drank Panera’s Charged Lemonade, the lawsuit says. Later that day, she went into cardiac arrest while at a restaurant with friends. She was rushed to Pennsylvania Presbyterian Hospital, where she had another cardiac arrest and was pronounced dead.
“We were very saddened to learn this morning about the tragic passing of Sarah Katz, and our hearts go out to her family,” Panera Bread wrote in a statement upon learning of the lawsuit. “At Panera, we strongly believe in transparency around our ingredients. We will work quickly to thoroughly investigate this matter.”
Katz’s parents believe her consumption of the Charged Lemonade is what led to her death. They allege that their daughter bought the drink “reasonably confident it was a traditional lemonade and/or electrolyte sports drink containing a reasonable amount of caffeine safe for her to drink.”
On Panera’s website, the drink is advertised as containing “about as much caffeine as our Dark Roast coffee,” while being “naturally flavoured and plant-based.” However, Panera’s 20-ounce Dark Roast coffee only has about 268 mg of caffeine compared to the large Charged Lemonade’s 390 mg, although a 20-ounce Light Roast coffee has about 384 mg of caffeine.
Panera has not publicly commented on the lawsuit as of this writing.
Katz’s roommate and close friend, Victoria Rose Conroy, said the 21-year-old was very careful about navigating her heart condition.
“She was very, very vigilant about what she needed to do to keep herself safe,” Conroy said. “I guarantee if Sarah had known how much caffeine this was, she never would have touched it with a 10-foot pole.”
“I think everyone thinks lemonade is safe. And really, this isn’t lemonade at all. It’s an energy drink that has lemon flavour,” Elizabeth Crawford, a Philadelphia-based lawyer involved in the suit told the outlet. “It should have an adequate warning.”
The Charged Lemonade is “offered side-by-side with all of Panera’s non-caffeinated and/or less caffeinated drinks,” the lawsuit states. And its comparison to Panera’s Dark Roast coffee is vague and “unhelpful” because the chain doesn’t specify what size of coffee it’s akin to.
Moreover, the drink is mixed “in-house,” meaning the “caffeine content is not controlled and, in turn, has an innate and dangerous potential to vary.”
Crawford told CNN the lawsuit aims to get the drink “taken off the shelf” or with a warning included.
“It’s a dangerous energy drink and it’s not advertised that way. We want to make sure this does not happen to someone else,” she said.
A memorial post written by the Sudden Arrhythmia Death Syndromes (SADS) Foundation describes Katz as a passionate and caring person involved in community health.
“Since she was a little girl, she was involved in CPR and AED awareness advocacy – and always wanted to help others learn how to save a life,” the foundation writes.
Katz was a Red Cap ambassador for the American Heart Association, where she taught CPR in high schools in underserved communities. She was also a research assistant at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and helped introduce a bill to Pennsylvania state legislators advocating that all schools in the state become certified heart-safe spaces.
“Sarah is deeply missed by her friends, parents, and community – who believe her message of CPR and AED awareness is more important than ever,” the SADS Foundation writes.