The family of a woman named Sarah Katz has filed a lawsuit against bakery and fast food restaurant chain Panera Bread after they say their 21-year-old daughter died following the consumption of a Panera Charged Lemonade while unaware of how much caffeine it contained.
Katz was diagnosed with a condition called Long QT, a heart rhythm disorder, when she was five years old, and according to family and friends, avoided high amounts of caffeine.
“She was very, very vigilant about what she needed to do to keep herself safe,” Victoria Conroy, Katz’s former roommate, told NBC News. “I guarantee if Sarah had known how much caffeine this was, she never would have touched it with a 10-foot pole.”
On September 10, 2022, Katz ordered a Charged Lemonade with her Panera Sip Club membership, believing the drink was a traditional lemonade, the lawsuit claims. Several hours later, Katz suffered cardiac arrest at a friend’s birthday gathering; she was taken to a hospital and suffered cardiac arrest a second time, which was fatal.
The family says Panera neglected to sufficiently warn customers that the drinks contain a high amount of caffeine, arguing that the word “charged” can be associated with electrolytes and not necessarily caffeine.
“Defendants [Panera] knew or should have known that the Panera Charged Lemonade, as designed and formulated, once consumed, could injure children, pregnant and breastfeeding women, and people sensitive to caffeine — including those with underlying heart problems — by causing catastrophic injuries and/or death,” the suit claims.
Katz, according to the suit, ordered a large Charged Lemonade on the day of her death, noting that the drink contains 390 mg of caffeine, in addition to a high amount of sugar and another stimulant. The Charged Lemonade has significantly more caffeine than some standard energy drinks. A regular can of CELSIUS, for example, contains 200 mg of caffeine, a can of Red Bull contains 80 mg of caffeine, and a can of Monster Energy contains 160 mg of caffeine. According to the FDA, 400 mg of caffeine is generally safe for consumption, per day.
NBC News reported this past week that a medical examiner’s report showed that the 21-year-old’s cause of death was cardiac arrhythmia due to Long QT syndrome, though the report does not mention the Panera drink as a contributing factor. Katz had no drugs in her system at the time she was brought to the hospital.
As of Saturday, Panera has the following description on its website for its Charged Lemonades: “Naturally flavored, plant-based, with about as much CAFFEINE as our Dark Roast Coffee. Use in moderation. NOT RECOMMENDED FOR children, people sensitive to caffeine, pregnant or nursing women.”
The company has said in a statement that it’s “very saddened” to learn of Katz’s “tragic passing.” “Our hearts go out to her family,” a Panera spokesperson said. “At Panera, we strongly believe in transparency around our ingredients.”
A tribute fundraiser for Katz on the American Heart Association’s website describes Katz as the “the sweetest, smartest, most empathetic and driven person whose kindness touched the lives of everyone.”
“Since 2011, Sarah served as Red Cap Ambassador with the American Heart Association, teaching CPR in high schools and underserved communities,” the fundraiser reads. “During her first year at Penn, she worked as a research assistant at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, where she introduced a bill to Pennsylvania state legislators advocating that all Pennsylvania schools become certified ‘heart safe’ spaces. She returned to campus this semester eager to begin working for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as a health communications intern.”
“We are devastated by this tragic passing of our beloved Sarah,” Katz’s parents shared in a statement. “She loved the University of Pennsylvania so much and was so happy and thriving. Sarah was fully engaged in so many aspects of campus life, academics, clubs, socially, and through internships. Words cannot express how much of a loss we are feeling.”