Americans consumed more than $3.4 billion worth of energy drinks in 2019, and sales of these products have risen steadily over the past several years, climbing by nearly 22% since 2015. These beverages remain popular despite an increasing body of medical evidence that suggests they may be unsafe, especially for people with certain medical conditions.

In several cases, manufacturers of energy drinks, including companies like Monster, Red Bull, and Rockstar, have been sued by consumers and family members of people who have died after drinking one of these beverages.

Some of these cases have been settled, while others are still pending, all the while, these products remain on the shelves and are growing in popularity.

What Are Energy Drinks?

Energy drinks are highly caffeinated beverages that are popular among teens and young adults, particularly within the gaming community. Beyond high doses of caffeine, these drinks contain many other ingredients, often including sugar, B vitamins, taurine, herbal supplements and more, though specific formulations vary by brand.

These beverages have been linked with an increase in visits to hospital emergency rooms, and multiple people have experienced serious health problems and even death after consuming energy drinks.

Energy Drink Brands

U.S. energy drink sales topped $3.4 billion in 2019, according to Statista, and a couple of companies control the lion’s share of the market here in the United States. The two biggest brands by sales are Red Bull and Monster. In a typical year, these companies combine to account for nearly 80% of all energy drink sales.

In 2018, the top five energy drink manufacturers by total U.S. sales were: Red Bull ($4.6 billion), Monster ($4.2 billion), Rockstar ($900 million), High Performance ($400 million), and Vital Pharma ($211 million).

Energy Drink History

Energy drinks aren’t exactly a new phenomenon, though certain products have had a very troubled legal history. Perhaps the first modern product that could have been called an energy drink was Coca-Cola, which famously contained cocaine in its original form when it was invented in 1886. Coke hasn’t had cocaine since early in the 20th century, but it’s clear that drinks designed to boost energy have been in high demand for a very long time indeed.

The first modern energy drink to break into the U.S. market was Red Bull, which became prominent in the United States around 1997. Rockstar joined the party in 2001, followed by Monster in 2002. While these three companies have managed to keep their products on the shelves despite legal trouble, there have been other energy drinks that have come and gone thanks to federal regulators for one big reason — they contained alcohol.

Perhaps the most prominent of those ill-fated beverages was Four Loko, which became wildly popular between 2009 and 2010 before it drew the ire of regulators and lawmakers after several cases in which teens and young adults became ill, including one case where an 18-year-old died.

Four Loko not only contained caffeine but also had guarana and taurine along with malt liquor, a combination that in November 2010 led the Food and Drug Administration to issue a warning to Four Loko and other makers of caffeinated alcoholic beverages that their products constituted a public health concern that would not be permitted to remain on the market.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, when caffeine is mixed with alcohol it can mask the effects of alcohol, making people feel more alert and less drunk than they might otherwise feel. But their blood-alcohol levels remain high, which can lead people to drink more or be more prone to risky behaviors like drunk driving.

Almost immediately after the FDA’s announcement, Four Loko said it would remove stimulants like caffeine, guarana, and taurine, and today Four Loko remains on the market as a malt liquor product.

Energy Drink Ingredients

Even when energy drinks aren’t mixed with alcohol, they contain substances that can alter your mood as well as potentially leading to adverse effects in many people, depending on their health and how much they drink.

The most common ingredients in energy drinks include:

  • Caffeine: a stimulant that occurs naturally in many plants, including coffee and tea
  • Taurine: an amino acid that regulates energy levels, heartbeat, and muscle contractions
  • Glucuronolactone: a compound the body creates when it processes glucose; claimed to help detoxify the body
  • B vitamins: which includes substances like niacin, folic acid, riboflavin, B6 and B12
  • Guarana: a stimulant additive made from a South American plant; contains roughly double the caffeine of Arabica coffee beans
  • Ginseng: a natural herb that’s believed to increase energy, relieve stress, and promote memory
  • L-carnitine: an amino acid that helps increase metabolism and raise energy levels
  • Antioxidants: molecules that encourage cellular recovery and help the body resist illness
  • Sugar: a simple carbohydrate present in many foods

Potential Energy Drink Side Effects

Side effects from consuming energy drinks include physical symptoms of over-caffeination, but the presence of other substances in energy drinks can lead to adverse reactions depending on the individual and the product in question.

So, this could include something common and not necessarily dangerous, like jitters, but it could also lead to issues like elevated blood pressure, which can raise the risk of heart attack or stroke. Other potential side effects of consuming energy drinks include:

  • Kidney failure
  • Stroke
  • High blood pressure
  • Heart attack
  • Liver damage
  • Arrhythmia
  • Seizures
  • Psychotic episodes
  • Death

Energy Drink Lawsuits

Energy drinks that don’t contain alcohol remain legal for sale in the U.S., but the nature of the product means that consumers rely on manufacturers to be open and honest about what’s contained in their products.

In some cases, manufacturers have faced lawsuits over both side effects and the marketing of their products.

Legal Status

In the United States, the Food and Drug Administration is authorized to classify a range of products designed for human consumption. Some of these products are labeled as foods or beverages, but many energy drinks are classified as dietary supplements, which can help shield them from certain aspects of mandatory food labeling.

For example, dietary supplement manufacturers are required to list ingredients, including caffeine, but they’re not required by law to detail how much caffeine is in a bottle, can, or serving. Some, but not all, manufacturers voluntarily include the amount of caffeine in their products.

While this information may be accessible on the internet (this is an excellent resource for monitoring the caffeine you’re consuming), leaving specifics of caffeine in products places the burden on the consumer instead of the manufacturer who has an obligation to sell only products that are safe for people to consume.

Lawsuit History

Multiple energy drink companies have faced lawsuits over the years, including from the family members of people who died after consuming their products. Lawsuits brought against the makers of energy drinks generally include one or more of several claims, such as wrongful death, failure to warn, marketing a defective product, and misleading marketing statements.

Here’s a look at some prominent lawsuits and their outcomes:

2011: A 14-year-old Maryland girl died after going into cardiac arrest. Her family claimed she was otherwise healthy but drank 48 ounces of Monster Energy drinks in the space of 24 hours; her parents settled their lawsuit for an undisclosed figure.

2013: A 19-year-old Maryland man died from cardiac arrhythmia and cardiomyopathy after drinking two 16-ounce cans of Monster Energy a daily basis for about three years. His mother reached a settlement for an undisclosed sum.

That same year, the family of a 33-year-old Brooklyn man sued Red Bull after he suffered a fatal heart attack when he drank a Red Bull between basketball games. That suit also was settled for an undisclosed figure.

2014: A 42-year-old Kansas City man died after drinking one Monster Energy drink every day for about two weeks; that suit was settled the following year.

That same year, Red Bull reached a settlement in Canada over false advertising claims based on the company’s assertion that it “gives you wings;” in other words, that it enhances your physical or mental performance. The company agreed to a mass settlement in Canada that equated to consumers receiving about $10 each.

2016: A Washington man sued Monster Energy after suffering a stroke he claimed was caused by drinking four Monsters in a single day. In that same year, the mother of a Georgia man filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Red Bull, claiming that the drink substantially contributed to her son’s fatal aortic dissection. Both cases are ongoing.

These cases and others illustrate that illnesses, disabilities, and even deaths are connected to energy drinks like Monster, Rockstar, and Red Bull.

Vulnerable Groups

In most cases, labeling on energy drinks warns against consumption by pregnant people, children, and individuals sensitive to caffeine. But marketing efforts by these companies often focus on rapid consumption (pounding or slamming drinks) as well as consumption by young people, including teens and young adults.

About one-third of teens consume energy drinks regularly, and the largest group of energy drink consumers are young men between the ages of 18 and 34. A typical energy drink could contain double the amount of caffeine that’s suggested as a maximum daily intake amount for teenagers. They should consume no more than 100 mg of caffeine per day, while children under 12 should not consume caffeine in any amount.

In addition to the chemical makeup of these products, there’s no doubt that they are heavily marketed to vulnerable groups. In fact, on its homepage, Monster Energy routinely includes links to promotions featuring cultural figures and events that appeal more heavily to young males than any other group. That recently included mentions of the wildly popular video game Halo, X Games events, and professional football players like Rob Gronkowski.

Red Bull and Rockstar are similarly heavily marketed toward young men, with homepages for both companies including imagery related to extreme sports, scantily clad female models, and gaming.

A recent study published in the Journal of the American Heart Association found that rapid consumption of energy drinks caused changes in heart rhythm and blood pressure in otherwise healthy individuals between the ages of 18 and 40. This lends credence to the notion that quick consumption of these products could be unsafe at any age.

Statute of Limitations

People who have been harmed by energy drinks, or the loved ones of those who have died after consuming these products, have a limited amount of time to file a lawsuit. This statute of limitations varies by state and the type of lawsuit.

Claims that focus on defective products typically need to be brought within a year, but you may have up to three years, depending on the state. It’s important to contact a qualified local attorney who can help you navigate the specifics of laws in your state.

Personal injury or wrongful death claims often have a statute of limitations that’s different from other types of claims. For example, individuals in California have four years to file claims related to written contracts, three years for property damage, and two years for personal injury claims.

Your attorney will be able to help you understand when and how to file your claim if you or a loved one have been sickened or suffered serious health complications after consuming energy drinks.

What Should I Do if I Have Been Affected by Energy Drinks?

The most important concern if you’ve been harmed by an energy drink is to seek immediate medical attention, especially if you are feeling any physical symptoms related to your heart, breathing, or mental function.

Other symptoms related to consumption of energy drinks, including ones that can appear over a long period of time:

  • Heart palpitations
  • Dizziness
  • Nervousness
  • Chest pain
  • Tremor/shaking
  • Intestinal distress
  • Tingling or numb skin
  • Insomnia
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Headache
  • Restlessness/agitation
  • Elevated blood pressure
  • Increased urination
  • Allergic reaction (rash, hives, etc.)
  • Weight gain and obesity
  • Dehydration

If you’re a regular consumer of energy drinks, your body probably has become accustomed to having high doses of caffeine on a regular basis. In those cases, it can be physically uncomfortable to stop cold turkey. Withdrawal symptoms typically begin within 24 hours of your last caffeine intake and can last a week or more.

Those who have been harmed by energy drinks may want to swear off caffeine entirely, but gradually reducing caffeine intake over a period of two or three weeks is usually a safer option. So, consuming a small amount of coffee or tea every day until you’ve tapered down is your best bet to kick the caffeine habit.

It’s also important to remember that moderate amounts of caffeine on their own are typically not dangerous if a person isn’t highly sensitive to caffeine and doesn’t have a heart condition. One of the potential issues with energy drinks is the addition of other substances like guarana and taurine, which are not present in regular tea or coffee.

How Do I Know if I Qualify to Be Part of an Energy Drink Lawsuit?

Currently, no class-action lawsuits have been filed against Monster, Red Bull, Rockstar, or any other energy drink manufacturers, and no U.S. settlements have been reached to compensate consumers who were harmed by the products or marketing surrounding them.

The compensation period in Canada over Red Bull’s marketing claims expired in 2019.

What that means is that the only way to receive compensation in the event that you or a loved one have been harmed by an energy drink is to file a lawsuit against the manufacturer, distributor, and any other parties involved.

Dangerous side effects, including death, have been reported as a result of consumption of energy drinks. Habitual consumers have been affected, but so have short-term consumers. This means that regardless of the period of time over which energy drinks were consumed, if a person was sickened or died as a result of drinking Monster, Red Bull, Rockstar, or another energy drink, they or their loved ones may be eligible for compensation.

Lawsuits against energy drink companies can come in many forms, including the products’ physical effects and the companies’ business practices, including marketing their drinks to certain groups.

How Do Energy Drink Lawsuits Work?

There are currently several lawsuits pending against energy drink companies, but there is no single litigation, such as a class action. For individuals and families of people who have been affected by these products, it will typically be necessary to file a lawsuit to receive compensation.

Each case is unique, but these lawsuits tend to flow in a similar pattern depending on the type of case. Here’s what to expect in the tragic event of a loved one who died after consuming energy drinks:

Consult With an Attorney

Because no settlement exists in the U.S. surrounding energy drinks, the best way to ensure your case is heard is to consult with a qualified local attorney.

Obtain a Death Certificate

This document may or may not list a cause of death, and it certainly won’t list something like “energy drink consumption.” But, in many cases, death certificates will list a cause of death that lends support to the allegation that energy drinks were a contributing factor.

If, for instance, heart attack is the cause of death of a person who otherwise was young and healthy and had never been treated for a heart condition, that’s a very notable finding. In any event, a death certificate is a crucial piece of documentation in a wrongful death lawsuit.

Investigation and Case-Building

Your attorney and their team will begin the process of establishing the case against the energy drink company. This will usually include consulting with medical professionals, such as a city or county coroner, or a family doctor or expert medical professional.

Valuing the Case

Your attorney will also determine the monetary value associated with the case. Of course, no amount of money will make up for the loss of your loved one, but a crucial part of any wrongful death case is determining how much was spent on medical bills, funeral expenses, and other spending associated with the loss of your loved one. This sum will also usually include lost future wages and compensation for the emotional strain of your loss.

Drafting and Filing the Claim

Once information-gathering has been completed, your attorney will make their case on paper, laying out all the claims that you’re making in the case, and they will file this document with the court.

Pre-Trial Negotiations

Many wrongful death lawsuits and other claims against energy drink companies are settled before a trial begins, but it may be necessary to prepare yourself for a trial that could be time-consuming and will necessarily involve recounting potentially painful details of the death of your loved one.

Trial, Verdict, and Appeals

If no settlement can be reached, the case may proceed to trial, depending on the court’s schedule. After the jury’s verdict, the losing side will have a chance to appeal the decision, and the appeals process can take years.

Do I Need a Lawyer to Join an Energy Drink Lawsuit?

Most likely, yes. That’s because no mass settlement exists that covers the damages consumers have sustained from energy drinks. So, at this point, the only way to receive compensation if you have been injured or sickened by energy drinks is to consult with a qualified attorney who can ensure your best interests.

How Long Does It Take to Settle an Energy Drink Lawsuit?

Many of the lawsuits that have been brought so far against energy drink companies have ended in settlements, though that’s not the case with every lawsuit. That said, energy drink companies are sensitive to the public perception of their products, and in certain cases, they may be more willing to reach a quick settlement.

Particularly in cases where young people or otherwise healthy adults have died or been seriously harmed by energy drinks, companies like Monster and Red Bull have reached individual settlements. In most civil lawsuits, it’s reasonable to assume settling the case will take at least one year, with negotiations sometimes stretching out to 18 months or more.

What Is the Statute of Limitations on Energy Drink Lawsuits?

The window of time you have to bring a claim related to energy drinks is referred to as the statute of limitations. This varies by state as well as by the specific type of claim. For personal injury lawsuits, the statute of limitations varies from a low of one year (Kentucky, Louisiana, and Tennessee) to a high of six years (Maine).

How Much Can You Get From an Energy Drink Lawsuit?

To date, no group lawsuit against an energy drink company has ended in a verdict in favor of the plaintiffs, at least not in the U.S. A Canadian man successfully sued Red Bull over its marketing claims that the product “gives you wings,” and a multimillion-dollar fund was established in that country, though the average consumer only received about $10.

In other cases, families have settled with energy drink manufacturers for undisclosed sums. So, we don’t yet know what a typical energy drink lawsuit will yield in terms of financial compensation. But we do know from other similar product liability and wrongful death lawsuits that figures can range from the tens of thousands into the millions.

How Long Does It Take to Get Your Money After You Settle an Energy Drink Lawsuit?

In known cases in which families have settled lawsuits against energy drink companies, neither the sum nor the length of time the family waited to begin receiving money has been publicized. However, it’s important to remember that one of the best reasons to settle a lawsuit instead of proceeding to trial is that in a settlement the company signs an agreement to pay compensation on a schedule that all parties involved must keep.

What that means is that while the length of time that a family might await settlement money varies by the case, that length is something they have negotiated and agreed upon. It’s certainly going to be a shorter period of time than they would face if they proceeded to trial and had to go through the appeals process, which can take years.

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