Monster Beverage Corp. May Have Monster Litigation Problems

Monster Beverage Corp and its “Monster Energy” drinks have come under a lot of heat in recent months.  The FDA recently confirmed that it is investigating reports of five deaths and a heart attack that were possibly linked to consumption of Monster Energy.  In September, two U.S. senators sent a letter to the FDA asking it to investigate “energy drinks” and their effects on adolescents.  Now, the parents of a Maryland teenager who died after allegedly drinking two cans of Monster Energy in a 24-hour period are suing Monster.

Monster Energy is a highly caffeinated drink.  Energy drinks like it are the fastest growing segment of the soft drink market, with sales rapidly increasing over the last year.  Other brands of energy drinks include Red Bull, AMP, and Rockstar.  But Monster is clearly the market leader. Now the billion dollar question is whether Monster Energy is dangerous.  The parents of 14-year old Anais Fournier certainly believe the drinks are unreasonably so.  Their lawsuit alleges that in November of 2011 Anais went into “cardiac arrhythmia due to caffeine toxicity” after two drinking two 24-ounce cans of Monster Energy on consecutive days.  Apparently, the high caffeine level of the drink complicated an existing heart valve condition in the teen.  She was taken to the hospital but died six days later.

The lawsuit contains two main allegations.  The first is a defective design claim alleging that the drinks just contain too much caffeine.  I’m not sure this claim will fly.  The complaint alleges that two cans of Monster Energy contain 480 mg of caffeine and notes that this is the equivalent of 14 cans of Coca-Cola.  While this is true, it is somewhat misleading.  Coca-Cola is actually relatively low in caffeine in comparison to coffee or tea.  A single venti (20oz) cup of regular coffee from Starbucks contains 415mg of caffeine.  As such, I’m not sure you could say that a 24oz can of Monster Energy with 240mg of caffeine poses an unreasonable risk.

The second allegation is a failure to warn claim.  Basically, the plaintiffs claim that Monster should have known its drinks contained dangerous levels of caffeine and placed warnings on the cans.  This claim seems a little more viable at first glance.  However, the cans already contain the following warning: “Limit 3 cans per day.  Not recommended for children, pregnant women, or people sensitive to caffeine.”

It is unclear, however, whether this warning was on the cans in November of 2011 when the plaintiffs’ daughter consumed the Monster Energy.

Regardless of how this plays out, the caffeine scare may have already taken its toll on Monster.  Monster’s stock hit a high of $79 per share in June, but has recently plummeted to around $45 per share.