Strange But True: Wrongful Death Cases from Caffeine Overdose

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    When we hear the word “overdose,” we tend to think of substances like heroin, cocaine, and prescription pills.  But there’s another, more abundant substance that has recently been linked to overdoses and wrongful death lawsuits: caffeine.

    Caffeine Can Be Dangerous

    Yes — believe it or not, excessive caffeine consumption can be dangerous.  Dunkin’ Donuts famously claims that “America runs on Dunkin’,” and the slogan is hardly an exaggeration.  According to statistics released by the National Coffee Association, just over half of Americans drink coffee on a daily basis, and estimates say that Americans gulp down a staggering:

    • 400 million cups every day
    • 146 billion cups of coffee every year

    In addition to coffee’s long-standing supremacy as the nation’s unofficial morning beverage, there are numerous other drinks to choose from when the coffee buzz just isn’t cutting it.  For those who tire of their morning Joe, or who don’t enjoy the taste of coffee but still crave an artificial energy boost, popular beverages like Coca-Cola, Pepsi, Monster, Mountain Dew, Red Bull, and of course, tea, all contain caffeine.

    Caffeine and its side effects have largely escaped the scrutiny that other drugs endure, because the use of caffeine is both legal and socially acceptable throughout the United States.  Coffee and other caffeine-containing beverages can be purchased anywhere, at any time — no IDs, prescriptions, or illegal activity necessary.

    Unfortunately, sometime people, especially children, forget that caffeine serves as the perfect example of the old adage, “Too much of a good thing can be bad.”

    Side Effects of Excessive Caffeine

    Coffee is a little like alcohol: while the taste happens to be enjoyable to many, the driving force behind its consumption is the effect, not the flavor.  That the sales of regular coffee dwarf those of decaffeinated coffee, which contains only 3% of the caffeine of its regular counterpart, seems to attest to this fact.

    On average, an eight-ounce cup of coffee contains approximately 95 milligrams of caffeine.  Consume up to 300 or 400 mg in a day, and you’re still within the range of a normal intake.  You’re likely to be experiencing the familiar feelings that caffeine produces — alertness, energy, a certain “sharpness” to your thoughts and actions.  But as the caffeine dosage increases, so do the unpleasant side effects and even serious health risks.

    At 500-600 mg per day (roughly five or six servings), you’re edging into drinking what the Mayo Clinic considers a “heavy” amount of caffeine.  In this range of caffeine consumption, there’s a chance you can start to suffer from unpleasant side effects like insomnia, muscle twitches, feelings of restlessness, and an increased heart rate.  While these feelings aren’t exactly enjoyable, in the short term, they’re unlikely to be fatal.

    But sometimes, caffeine does kill.

    Wrongful Death Cases from Caffeine Overdose: The Statistics

    While coffee is the most common vehicle for caffeine, energy drinks — which have surged in popularity during the last decade — account for a disproportionate amount of wrongful deaths related to caffeine overdose.  Why?  Simply put, they’re often stronger.  In terms of caffeine quantities, coffee is actually far weaker than many energy drinks currently on the market.  

    • 8 ounces of coffee = 95 mg
    • 24 ounces of Monster = 240 mg
    • 2.5 ounces of Redline Power Rush =  350 mg
    • 2 ounces of ALRI Hypershot = 500 mg

    Even in cases where energy drinks contain the same amount as or even less caffeine than coffee, consumers often drink more, simply because unlike coffee, energy drinks are often cold, bubbly, sugary, and convenient.

    In 2011, otherwise, healthy 33-year-old Cory Terry collapsed and died during a game of basketball.  In October of 2013, Terry’s family filed a wrongful death lawsuit seeking $85 million in damages against energy drink giant Red Bull, alleging that the caffeine in Red Bull beverages had been the cause of Terry’s untimely passing.  Grandmother Patricia Terry stated, “He drank that stuff all the time.  He said it perked him up.”

    On the date of his death, Terry had consumed a Red Bull less than an hour prior to his collapse.  While Red Bull representatives have declined to comment on the Terry lawsuit, the popular manufacturer maintains that their beverage is safe for consumption, citing “more than 5 billion cans consumed last year.”

    Terry’s family isn’t alone in their grief.  In 2012, the family of 14-year-old Maryland native Anais Fournier filed a wrongful death action against drink manufacturer Monster after their daughter passed away in connection with the best-selling energy drink.

    According to official documents, Fournier consumed one 24 ounce can during the evening hours of December 16, 2011, followed by a second 24 ounce can the following afternoon.  Within several hours of the second can, Fournier suffered a heart attack, and passed away six days later.  Fournier family attorneys have stated, “The labeling of Monster Energy drinks does nothing to attempt to warn of these severe health risks, as the cans utterly fail to provide adequate information as to the total caffeine content of the product.”  In the Fournier case, product liability may have tragically led to the death of a teenage girl.

    The caffeine content of one 8.4 ounce can of Red Bull is 80 mg, less than a similar serving of coffee.  The caffeine content of one 24 ounce can of Monster is 240 mg.

    If a loved one has passed away as a result of the misuse or mislabeling of a popular product, you may be eligible to seek financial restitution.  To speak with one of our experienced wrongful death attorneys, contact the law offices of The Reiff Law Firm online, or call our law offices today at (215) 709-6940.

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