Energy-drink firm fights case on teen's death
BY CANDICE CHOI, Associated Press
NEW YORK -- Monster Beverage is hitting back at a lawsuit alleging its energy drinks were responsible for the death of a 14-year-old Maryland girl, saying that no blood test was performed to confirm that the girl died of "caffeine toxicity."
The disclosures come amid intensifying scrutiny of energy drinks and their caffeine levels. A lawsuit filed last year by the family of Anais Fournier said the girl went into cardiac arrest after drinking two 24-ounce cans of Monster drinks in a 24-hour period.
The Food and Drug Administration also has said it is investigating reports of deaths linked to energy drinks, including five that cite Monster beverages. The agency notes that the reports don't prove the drinks caused the deaths.
In an interview, Monster's lawyer Daniel Callahan said the company hired a team of physicians to review the medical records in the case, which he said suggest Fournier died of natural causes brought on by her pre-existing heart conditions. The team found no medical evidence for an autopsy report that said "caffeine toxicity" was a factor, he said.
Callahan said that declaration on the autopsy report was made based on interviews with Fournier's mother, who told the medical examiner's office the girl had consumed energy drinks before her death.
A spokesman for Maryland's chief medical examiner could not immediately confirm whether a blood test had been performed to check for caffeine levels and said that the office does not comment on cases in litigation.
The cause of death listed on the autopsy report was "cardiac arrhythmia due to caffeine toxicity complicating mitral valve regurgitation in the setting of Ehler's-Danlos syndrome," which is a heart condition.
Kevin Goldberg, a Maryland attorney for Fournier's family, said the absence of a test for caffeine "doesn't tell us anything" and that the family is looking forward to a jury determining Monster's accountability.
"In America, a jury of our peers determines justice. Not doctors paid by billion-dollar corporations to attend press conferences," he wrote.
Labeling on Monster's cans say the drinks are not for children or pregnant women. But Goldberg said the reference to children is "ambiguous and intentionally misleading" because Monster's marketing is geared toward teenagers and young adults. Monster says its target market is 18 to 34 years old but that its drinks are nevertheless safe for children as well.
Callahan noted that none of the other incidents the FDA is investigating has resulted in a lawsuit against Monster.