HomeBusiness28-year-old sues Panera, alleging Charged Lemonade gave her heart problems

28-year-old sues Panera, alleging Charged Lemonade gave her heart problems

Lauren Skerritt played soccer, surfed and went to the gym. She competed in the Spartan Beast, an obstacle-course race described by its organizers as soul-crushing. She was an athletic, healthy 27-year-old.

Then, according to a lawsuit filed this week, she drank Panera Bread’s Charged Lemonade.

Hours after consuming 2½ of the cafe-bakery chain’s caffeinated lemonade drink on an April day, Skerritt began having heart palpitations. She went to the hospital, where she ended up in critical care with atrial fibrillation, her heart beating irregularly.

Now, Skerritt has lasting heart problems that have left her on daily medication and derailed her life, she and her husband alleged in the lawsuit against Panera Bread, filed in Delaware on Tuesday.

Skerritt’s case is the third against Panera over its Charged Lemonade, which contains up to 390 milligrams of caffeine per 30 ounces four times the amount found in a cup of coffee. The allegations raise questions about whether the drink, which is still sold by Panera, is safe.

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Two families have alleged that their loved ones died after consuming the lemonade — a 46-year-old Florida man and a 21-year-old Pennsylvania student, both of whom had underlying conditions that made it potentially unsafe for them to have too much caffeine.

Dennis Brown, a supermarket employee from Florida, had a cardiac event in October while walking home from Panera, where he drank three lemonades. Brown, who had disabilities, steered clear of energy drinks because he had high blood pressure, according to the lawsuit his family filed.

Sarah Katz, who attended the University of Pennsylvania, went into cardiac arrest after drinking the lemonade in September 2022 and later died at the hospital, according to her parents’ lawsuit. She had a manageable heart condition that led her to avoid highly caffeinated drinks.

The lawsuits, all brought by the Philadelphia-based firm Kline & Specter, allege that Panera is selling an “unreasonably dangerous” product. They argue that Panera didn’t adequately warn consumers of the high caffeine content of its lemonade, which comes in multiple flavors, and made the drinks easily available for refills by offering them as self-serve beverages and as part of the chain’s Unlimited Sip Club.

The drink includes multiple sources of caffeine, including coffee and guarana extracts, and a high amount of sugar. The largest size, the Skerritts’ lawsuit alleges, has 124 grams of sugar — more than a 12-ounce Red Bull and 16-ounce Monster combined.

An occupational therapist who lives in Rhode Island, Skerritt didn’t know she was ordering such a highly caffeinated drink when she chose the lemonade. She had no prior health conditions, said her attorney, Elizabeth Crawford.

“It clearly demonstrates that this is a dangerous drink,” Crawford said. “A reasonable consumer, in a place like Panera Bread, with a drink like lemonade, with no underlying conditions — how would they ever believe that product was unsafe?”

Crawford said she has spoken to additional people with similar allegations against Panera’s lemonade and expects to file more lawsuits against the company.

Panera Bread did not immediately respond Thursday to a request for comment from The Washington Post. The company has disputed the previous lawsuits. Last month, a spokesperson said the company did not believe the Florida man’s death had been caused by a Panera product.

“We view this lawsuit, which was filed by the same law firm as the previous claim, to be equally without merit. Panera stands firmly by the safety of our products,” the spokesperson said in December.

The online menu now labels the drinks as containing caffeine, and if a user clicks on the drink, the description reads, “Naturally flavored, plant-based. Contains caffeine. Use in moderation. NOT RECOMMENDED FOR children, people sensitive to caffeine, pregnant or nursing women.”

About 400 milligrams of caffeine a day is generally safe for healthy adults, the Food and Drug Administration said, but how sensitive people are to caffeine can vary widely. Drinking more than one Charged Lemonade would put an adult over the recommended amount.

On the day she went to Panera in Greenville, R.I., Skerritt, a vegetarian, saw the lemonade labeled as “plant-based” and chose it based on that, according to the lawsuit. That evening, she had three episodes of heart palpitations while sitting in church.

She went to the emergency room the next day, where her heart rate reached into the 190s with an irregular heartbeat. A few months later, she again had to be hospitalized for atrial fibrillation.

Ever since, she has had recurring episodes of heart palpitations, shortness of breath, shaking, weakness and brain fog, along with a hand tremor. She can no longer exercise the way she used to, according to the lawsuit.

Skerritt and her husband, Christopher, were recently married. A big part of their relationship was doing physical activities together, such as the Spartan Beast race, Crawford said.

They also planned to start a family, but they have put those plans on hold because Skerrit has been told she would have a high-risk pregnancy due to her heart condition.

“Their entire marriage, their plans, everything has been altered because she no longer can do the types of physical activity that they used to do before,” Crawford said. “That’s creating an entirely new normal for what they thought was going to be their life.”

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