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Katz vs Panera: The Tragic Death of a 21-Year-Old

A lawsuit has been filed against Panera by the family of a young woman who has supposedly died due to the caffeine levels in their drinks.

On September 10, 2022, an Ivy league student named Sarah Katz collapsed at a friend’s birthday dinner before being rushed to the hospital by medical personnel. Hours later, she went into cardiac arrest and was unable to be resuscitated. Katz had been diagnosed with a heart condition known as Long QT as a child. Long QT syndrome causes a signaling disorder in the heart resulting in fast and irregular heartbeats. However, with medication and precautions in her daily life, she was able to remain a healthy 21-year-old student. However, on the day of her death, Katz bought a large Charged Lemonade from Panera without realizing the dangers of her purchase.

Family and friends of Katz claim that, because of the risks associated with her heart condition, she always avoided energy drinks. They find it unlikely that she would have bought the drink if she had been aware that it contained 390 milligrams of caffeine as well as large amounts of sugar. The family has filed a lawsuit against Panera for not properly disclosing this information to customers, putting those with preexisting conditions at risk. The main claim of the lawsuit states that “these unregulated beverages include no warning of any potentially dangerous effects, even the life-threatening effects on blood pressure, heart rate, and/or brain function.”

If you were to walk into most Panera locations and pour yourself a drink now, you might notice the caffeine contents labeled on the drinks in small lettering beneath their name. However, it is unclear if the Philadelphia location Katz visited had this information displayed for customers at the time or not. Even when provided the amount of caffeine, it would not be unreasonable to assume the average person does not understand the risks associated with such a heavily caffeinated drink. The FDA recommends a healthy adult consume no more than 400 milligrams of caffeine a day, which is the equivalent of approximately 4 cups of coffee or 10 cans of soda. As the Charged Lemonades contain more caffeine than three 12 oz. cans of Redbull, the lawsuit suggests that Panera does not properly inform its customers of what they truly are drinking.

In response to this lawsuit Panera has made changes online indicating that Charged Lemonades should be consumed with caution. On the Panera website, their description of the drink has been altered to inform that the drink should be consumed in moderation. The Katz family’s attorney, Elizabeth Crawford, said “while the Katz family maintains this toxic super energy drink should not be sold, they believe the fact Panera is placing a warning sign on their super energy drinks for the first time since this dangerous product was introduced is a start.” The FDA is still investigating the situation, and the monetary amount the Katz family is seeking has yet to be specified.

It is important to recognize that, even without preexisting health conditions, caffeine is widely considered an addictive substance by doctors worldwide. Some medical professionals are hesitant to call it a drug because it does not interact with the part of the brain that is linked to craving and rewards the way other addictive substances do. Though, other experts maintain that caffeine dependence is the single most common addiction in the world. With the consumerist nature of our society, it is easy to ignore the reality of what it is we are eating on a daily basis. Sarah’s death serves as a cautionary tale against this practice, and the family hopes to prevent further harm by forcing Panera to disclose the true risks of its products. “That has become their most important thing, is making the public aware of these dangers to make sure that it doesn’t happen to someone else.”


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