Friday, November 1, 2013

New case filed in NY alleges death was caused by Red Bull caffeinated drink

As you probably know by now, there has been a good deal of discussion about whether it is possible for caffeinated drinks to contribute to, or cause, someone's death.  (For my posts - and more links - on the issue go here, here, here, here, here, here, here and here.)  Several cases have been filed over the issue, all of them involving young victims.  Until now.  The family of a 33 year old New York man has filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the makers of Red Bull, claiming that side effects of the energy drink caused him to suffer a fatal heart attack. AboutLawsuits has a summary of the complaint and some background information here.

For a better and more insightful comment you can read Max Kennerly's post here.   He provides a detailed review of the complaint and the issues it raises.   He concludes the design defect claim is weak but the warning one is a bit stronger.

One 250 ml can of Red Bull Energy Drink contains 80mg of caffeine, about the same amount of caffeine as in a cup of coffee. The defendant, no doubt, will use this fact to argue the product is not any more dangerous than coffee.  The problem is that Red Bull is marketed differently than coffee.  Kennerly's post discusses some of the marketing in Red Bull's own website and links to at least one scientific study that explores he consequences of the consumption of Red Bull.

As if that wasn't enough, though, there is another interesting aspect to the complaint.  The complaint asked for $85 million in damages, when the law in New York bans requesting for specific amounts of money in complaints.  As Eric Turkewitz argues when a lawyer asks for a specific amount in a complaint "[e]ither the lawyer is ignorant of the law or the lawyer is deliberately violating it in the hunt for headlines. It’s your call as to which is worse, ignorance or a potential ethics issue."

Eric's post is worth reading here.  He goes one to argue, correctly in my view, that the emphasis on the amount of the claim detracts from the seriousness of the issue.  The story now becomes one about how much money the plaintiff's lawyer wants instead of one about whether a product is in fact dangerous or whether the defendant should change the way it markets the product.