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A woman alleges Panera’s highly caffeinated Charged Lemonade caused her to develop permanent heart problems

A lawsuit says Lauren Skerritt, 28, was an athlete with no underlying health issues before she drank the lemonade, which has also been blamed for two deaths in other lawsuits.
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A Rhode Island woman has sued Panera Bread, alleging the restaurant chain’s highly caffeinated lemonade caused her to have “permanent cardiac injuries.” 

Lauren Skerritt, 28, an occupational therapist, had been an athlete with no underlying health conditions who regularly competed in obstacle course races, according to the suit, which was first reported by NBC News. She now requires daily medication and has heart problems that have reduced her ability to work, exercise and socialize, says the complaint, which was filed Tuesday afternoon.

Lauren Skerritt
Lauren Skerritt's lawsuit says she was a competitive athlete before she developed heart problems.Courtesy Elizabeth Crawford

The complaint says that Skerritt drank 2½ Charged Lemonade drinks from a Panera cafe in Greenville, Rhode Island, on April 8 and then experienced palpitations. 

The next day, it says, Skerritt went to the emergency room, where tests showed that she had atrial fibrillation — an irregular heartbeat that can lead to a stroke, heart complications or other serious health problems.

Skerritt has since had “recurrent episodes of rapid heartbeat that occur suddenly and without pattern,” says the suit, which was filed in Delaware, where Panera is incorporated.

Panera Bread To Go Public
Exterior of a Panera Bread restaurant in Novato, Calif., on Nov. 9, 2021. Justin Sullivan / Getty Images file

“Lauren continues to experience supraventricular tachycardia with associated shortness of breath, palpitations, brain fog, difficulty thinking and concentrating, body shakes, and weakness,” the suit says, noting that Skerritt and her husband have put plans to start a family on hold because “she will have a high-risk pregnancy and may have complications during the pregnancy.” Skerritt’s husband, Christopher Skerritt, is also a plaintiff.

It’s at least the third lawsuit in recent months against Panera over its Charged Lemonade. The previous two — which were filed in October and December, months after Skerritt drank the beverage — blamed the lemonade for the deaths of an Ivy League student with a heart condition and a man in Florida who had a chromosomal deficiency disorder. 

Panera did not immediately comment on Tuesday’s lawsuit. It has previously expressed sympathy for the families in the two other lawsuits; following the second one, it said in a statement that it felt the customer's “unfortunate passing was not caused by one of the company’s products” and that it stands by the safety of the items on its menu. 

'Everything in her life has been altered'

Panera has advertised its Charged Lemonade as “Plant-based and Clean with as much caffeine as our Dark Roast coffee.” But at 390 milligrams, a large, 30-fluid-ounce Charged Lemonade has more caffeine in total than any size of Panera’s dark roast coffee, the legal complaints say, referring to the amount that is in the drink with no ice. A large cup of Charged Lemonade contains more than the caffeine content of standard cans of Red Bull and Monster energy drinks combined, plus the equivalent of almost 30 teaspoons of sugar, according to the complaints.

The Food and Drug Administration says healthy adults can generally safely consume 400 milligrams of caffeine a day.

Elizabeth Crawford, a partner at the Philadelphia-based law firm Kline & Specter PC, is representing the relatives of the two people who died, as well as Skerritt. She said Skerritt had a healthy and active lifestyle and chose the Charged Lemonade because of how Panera advertised it. It was her first time trying the drink.

“You put an innocuous product like lemonade in an innocuous bakery-cafe like Panera, what reasonable consumer is going to be thinking that they’re drinking, essentially, three Red Bulls?” she said.

Skerritt has been profoundly changed by the health issues she developed, Crawford said.

“Everything in her life has been altered because of this situation,” she said. “It’s devastating. She has to adjust to a new normal.” 

Tuesday’s lawsuit calls the Charged Lemonade a dangerous drink that is defective in its design. It includes medical notes from Skerritt’s visit to the emergency room in April, in which a nurse wrote that she had consumed “more caffeine than normal” the day before.

The other lawsuits Crawford filed were on behalf of the family of Sarah Katz, 21, a University of Pennsylvania student with a heart condition called long QT syndrome type 1, who avoided energy drinks at the recommendation of her doctors; and Dennis Brown, 46, of Fleming Island, Florida, who did not consume energy drinks because he had high blood pressure. 

Panera moved to dismiss the lawsuit that was filed on behalf of the Katz family, but a judge denied the request last month.

After that lawsuit, which was reported first by NBC News, Panera put more detailed disclosures in all of its restaurants and on its website warning customers to consume the Charged Lemonade in moderation, stating that it is not recommended for children, people sensitive to caffeine or pregnant or nursing women. 

At the time of Katz’s and Brown’s deaths, and when Skerritt consumed the beverage, the Charged Lemonade had been available in Panera cafes’ self-serve section alongside other beverages that had no caffeine or less caffeine, Crawford said.

Since the suits were filed, Panera has moved the Charged Lemonade to behind the counter, Crawford said. But she feels the drink should be taken off the menu entirely.

“The fact that they still have it on the shelf — I find that to be reckless,” she said. “How many more lawsuits do I need to file, both injury and people that have died, before they do the right thing?”