The father of a Four Loko drinker who was shot and killed by the police has been granted a second chance to pursue his claims against the drink manufacturer. After the death of Ron Fiorini, a 23-year old college student, Fiorini’s father, Brett Fiorini, filed suit against City Brewing Company, LLC in the Superior Court of Fresno County (CA) and asserted negligence and strict liability claims. Specifically, Fiorini alleged that Four Loko’s combination of alcohol and caffeine, as well as other stimulants, was unreasonably dangerous and increased the risk of violent and other high-risk behavior. The circuit court granted City Brewing’s motion for summary judgment on the grounds that the company was protected by the civil immunity in California’s dram shop statutes. Last week, a California appellate court reversed the judgment in favor of City Brewing. The case is Fiorini v. City Brewing Co., LLC, No. F067045 (Cal. App. 5th Nov. 7, 2014).
We have written before on Four Loko lawsuits, but factually, this one offers a few new twists. On the day of Fiorini’s death, he and some friends purchased two cans of Four Loko and a quantity of beer from a convenience store. Thereafter, Fiorini drank the Four Loko and some beer and began acting agitated and disoriented. Fiorini became delusional, grabbed a shotgun, and started shooting at a fence, exclaiming that “they” were coming for him. When police arrived, Fiorini wielded the gun on the front porch and police opened fire. The crux of the lawsuit is that had the Four Loko not contained caffeine and other stimulants, Fiorini would have lost consciousness due to his level of alcohol consumption. Instead, he remained awake in his disoriented state.
On appeal, City Brewing argued that the trial court correctly granted its motion for summary judgment based on a California statute which protects the manufacturers of alcohol from liabilty for common consumer products, i.e. alcohol. The Court, however, held that an alcoholic energy drink, which combines alcohol and caffeine, is not a common consumer product for the purpose of statutory immunity.
While we here at Abnormal Use recognize that the alcoholic energy drink is a fairly new phenomenon, we question whether the risks are not common knowledge. People know the risks of alcohol. They know the risks of caffeine. It doesn’t take a chemist to presume what the risks may be of combining those two items. After all, it is what probably drives most people to purchase Four Loko in the first place. The Court rejected this so-called “deconstruction” approach, but it is certainly an approach we would have considered taking.
Now that the case has been remanded back to the trial court, we are interested to see what a jury may do with these claims. Four Loko has had its share of bad press over the last few years. It is now time to see whether that negative reputation holds up to a legal analysis.