A Florida man died after drinking three servings of a heavily caffeinated beverage from Panera Bread, according to a lawsuit filed against the company on Monday. It is the second lawsuit linking the beverage, Charged Lemonade, to a death.
Dennis Brown, 46, died in October after suffering a “cardiac event” while walking home from a Panera Bread in Fleming Island, Fla., according to the wrongful-death lawsuit, which was filed by Mr. Brown’s mother, sister and brother in Superior Court in Delaware.
It is the second lawsuit filed against Panera Bread over its Charged Lemonade, which has more caffeine in its large size than a 12-ounce Red Bull and a 16-ounce Monster Energy Drink combined.
The lawsuit said the company “knew or should have known” that the drink could injure children, pregnant and breastfeeding women, and people sensitive to caffeine.
After the initial lawsuit, Panera told NBC News that it had “enhanced our existing caffeine disclosure” on its website and app, and in its restaurants.
In a statement on Tuesday, Panera said it “stands firmly by the safety of our products.”
“Panera expresses our deep sympathy for Mr. Brown’s family,” the statement said. “Based on our investigation we believe his unfortunate passing was not caused by one of the company’s products. We view this lawsuit, which was filed by the same law firm as a previous claim, to be equally without merit.”
In October, the parents of a college student with a heart condition who died in September 2022 after drinking a Charged Lemonade filed a lawsuit against Panera. The lawsuit said that the student, Sarah Katz, 21, drank the beverage likely thinking it had a safe amount of caffeine.
A regular Charged Lemonade has 260 milligrams of caffeine and the large size has 390 milligrams, according to Panera’s website.
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.
Energy drinks typically contain high levels of caffeine, added sugars and stimulants that pose significant risks to people with heart conditions, who dietitians say should avoid these beverages. High amounts of caffeine can also strain the cardiac system of people who do not have a heart condition.
The lawsuit filed in Delaware said that Mr. Brown had high blood pressure, a developmental delay, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and a chromosomal disorder that caused a mild intellectual disability and blurry vision.
Mr. Brown advocated for community safety and inclusion for people with disabilities as a member of the Clay County Change Makers Self-Advocacy Group, the complaint said.
He lived independently and worked for nearly 17 years at a Publix supermarket, where he would pack grocery bags and walk customers to their cars.
After his shifts at Publix, he would go to Panera up to three times a week, the lawsuit said.
On Oct. 9, he ordered the Charged Lemonade and had two refills before walking home, the complaint said. During the walk, he suffered a cardiac event and was found unresponsive on a sidewalk, where he was pronounced dead.
The complaint said that at the Panera, the Charged Lemonade “was offered side-by-side” with drinks with no caffeine or less caffeine, and that it was not advertised as an energy drink and did not have any warnings. The lawsuit does not say whether Mr. Brown ordered a regular or large size.
Mr. Brown died from “cardiac arrest due to hypertensive disease,” according to a death certificate provided by Elizabeth Crawford, a lawyer at the law firm Kline & Specter, which is representing Mr. Brown’s and Ms. Katz’s families.
“Dennis is part of a vulnerable population that should be protected,” Ms. Crawford said in an emailed statement. “And Panera failed to protect Dennis. Dennis’ family, just like the Katz family, hopes this message gets out to prevent this from happening again to anyone else.”
The high caffeine levels in Charged Lemonade attracted widespread attention and media coverage after a video was posted in December 2022 on TikTok by a user who was shocked by the drink’s unexpected caffeine content.