Young People And Energy Drinks: Why Parents May Struggle To File A Lawsuit

With sales growth of 5,000 percent since 1999, energy drinks are now almost as popular as coffee in the United States. Energy drinks appeal to lots of people, but the caffeine-rich beverages are particularly popular with students craving alertness, who are also potentially vulnerable to the side effects that these products can have. Unfortunately, if your son or daughter suffers a serious injury due to energy drink consumption, you may find it difficult to file a lawsuit. Find out about the effects that energy drinks can have on young people, and learn why it's not always easy to file a lawsuit when something goes wrong.

Why students crave energy drinks

Energy drinks (often marketed as sports supplements) contain large doses of caffeine, which is a powerful stimulant. As soon as you drink a caffeine-based product, your intestinal tract starts to absorb the chemical into your bloodstream. Blood then carries the caffeine around the body, where it stimulates your nervous system, causing the release of adrenalin. Adrenalin is a powerful neurotransmitter that makes you feel more alert and awake.

Students often need to finish a complex assignment in a short period. With hectic social lifestyles, it's often easy to cram your body full of caffeine-based energy drinks, bypassing quality sleep for a short burst of drug-induced energy. Many people enjoy a cup of coffee in the morning, but energy drinks often appeal to people who prefer a sweeter, fruitier taste to accompany their caffeine intake.

The risks that energy drinks pose

Unfortunately, caffeine only has a temporary effect on energy levels. Peak caffeine absorption takes place in less than an hour, and your bloodstream rapidly distributes the drug around your body. Three hours after you have an energy drink, the caffeine diminishes by fifty percent. Within six hours, your body will have eliminated the drug entirely. As such, to keep the feeling of alertness, some people consume several energy drinks in a short period.

The caffeine in an energy drink can range from 75 to 200 milligrams per serving. A can of cola has only 34 milligrams of caffeine. In some cases, these drinks contain guarana, but this chemical acts in the same way as caffeine.

The stimulants in energy drinks can lead to several serious side effects, including:

  • Increased heart rate
  • Increased blood pressure
  • Severe dehydration
  • Insomnia
  • Liver failure

These side effects can cause serious injuries and death. In the United States, consumer groups are increasingly concerned about the effect these energy drinks can have. According to the Center For Science in the Public Interest, adverse event reports link 34 deaths in the United States to energy drinks.

Energy drinks and FDA regulation

In the United States, manufacturers normally market energy drinks as dietary supplements or conventional foods. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulates these products, but, while consumer groups want the FDA to force manufacturers to put warnings on these products, energy drinks currently meet the rules.

Food producers don't have to show the FDA that their products are safe before they sell them. The FDA doesn't class an ingredient as a food additive if qualified experts already say the substance is safe to use. Energy drinks don't contain additives that you can't find in other food and drink products, so FDA pre-approval isn't necessary.

Similarly, the active ingredients in dietary supplements don't need FDA pre-approval. In fact, the FDA must prove that a product is unsafe before issuing an order to take the supplement off the market.

Responses to lawsuits

The family of a 14-year-old girl from Maryland filed a lawsuit against one manufacturer, alleging that an energy drink caused a fatal injury. The manufacturer contested the lawsuit, citing a lack of evidence that the drink caused the injury. When the girl died, doctors did not complete a caffeine toxicity test to confirm the drug was the cause of death.

This case is relatively typical of other lawsuits that relate to alleged energy drink injuries and deaths. Defense lawyers maintained that, while the FDA continues to investigate reports of energy drink injuries and deaths, adverse event reports do not prove that the products cause the alleged injuries. These adverse event reports do not always offer strong evidence. Food producers don't have to report details of any adverse events to the FDA. If a customer complains that the product made them ill, any report to the FDA is voluntary, so it's almost impossible to track how many people report problems to the manufacturers.

The reports are also often incomplete or inaccurate because:

  • The complainant gives no contact details, so it isn't possible to follow the report up
  • The details given are often too brief
  • The complainant fails to mention the product name and amount consumed
  • The complainant's medical history is not known

To assess a personal injury case, a judge will need proof that the product caused harm. Other medications, pre-existing medical conditions and improper product use can all contribute to an injury, which means it is often difficult to prove liability.

Energy drinks pose a potential health hazard to young people, but it's seldom easy to prove that a caffeine-based beverage caused harm. That aside, if you think an energy drink harmed your son or daughter, you should still talk to a personal injury lawyer like Hardee and Hardee LLP for more advice.