A college student with a heart condition died after she drank a heavily caffeinated drink from Panera Bread, likely thinking it had a safe amount of caffeine, her parents said in a lawsuit filed on Monday.
The lawsuit said that the company “failed to properly warn” customers about the potential dangers of its Charged Lemonade and misleadingly marketed the drink as “clean,” even though the large size has more caffeine than a 12-ounce Red Bull and a 16-ounce Monster Energy Drink combined.
The student, Sarah Katz, 21, drank Panera’s Charged Lemonade in September 2022, and died later that day, according to the lawsuit, filed in the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas.
Ms. Katz’s heart condition, Long QT Type 1 Syndrome, affects the electrical system that controls a person’s heartbeat, the complaint said. She was diagnosed with the condition when she was 5 years old, took daily medication and avoided energy drinks and other highly caffeinated beverages, the complaint said.
Ms. Katz was a junior the University of Pennsylvania studying a double major of international relations and health and societies. She was also an ambassador for the American Heart Association and taught CPR in high schools and underserved communities, according to the complaint.
Elizabeth Crawford, a lawyer for the family, said that Ms. Katz was “really vigilant” about her health and medication. “If she didn’t know that this was an energy drink, it makes the family concerned about who else doesn’t know,” Ms. Crawford said.
The cause of her death was cardiac arrhythmia caused by long QT syndrome, according to a copy of the medical examiner’s report provided by Ms. Crawford. The report does not mention Charged Lemonade.
In a statement, Panera said it was “saddened” to learn about Ms. Katz’s death.
“At Panera, we strongly believe in transparency around our ingredients,” the statement said. “We will work quickly to thoroughly investigate this matter.”
About two months after Ms. Katz’s death, Charged Lemonade attracted widespread attention and media coverage after a video was posted on TikTok by a user who was shocked by the drink’s unexpected caffeine content.
The video’s creator, Sarah Baus, said in the video that she routinely drank the lemonade, but had only just learned about how much caffeine was in it and thought that it might explain why she was always productive when she worked from Panera.
There is a wide variation in how sensitive people are to caffeine, and certain medical conditions and medications can make people more sensitive to it.
According to the Food and Drug Administration, most “healthy adults” can safely consume up to 400 milligrams of caffeine per day, or about four or five cups of regular coffee, depending on the brand and roast.
At the Panera location in Philadelphia where Ms. Katz bought the Charged Lemonade on Sep. 10, 2022, the legal complaint said, the drink was offered next to beverages that did not have caffeine, or had less caffeine. It was not advertised as an energy drink.
Ms. Crawford said that she did not know how much Ms. Katz drank because she subscribed to a Panera program that offered free refills at a self-serve station.
The caffeine content could also have been affected by how the drink was prepared, according to the complaint, because Panera workers mix it at the restaurant, which caused “a lack of quality control.”
After drinking the lemonade, Ms. Katz suffered cardiac arrest in a restaurant and was taken to the hospital, according to the complaint. She had a second cardiac arrest at the hospital, where she died, the complaint said.