Experts Crucial in Wrongful Death Suit Against Monster Beverage

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By Josh Long

RIVERSIDE, Calif.—Monster Beverage Corp. has blamed the death of a 14-year-old girl on a pre-existing medical condition, citing a medical examiner's report and lack of physical evidence linking its energy drinks to the cardiac arrest she suffered more than a year ago.

In a lawsuit that has placed caffeinated energy drinks under a national microscope, Monster claims a pre-existing heart condition known as Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome caused Maryland resident Anais Fournier to go into cardiac arrest.

"To date, more than 8 billion cans of Monster energy drinks have been sold worldwide, and this is the only case of its kind," Monster asserted in court papers.

A medical examiner, Ana Rubio, concluded the teen "died of cardiac arrhythmia due to caffeine toxicity complicating mitral value regurgitation in the setting of Ehlers-Danlos syndrome." But in documents filed last month in state court in Riverside, Calif., Monster said the rest of the autopsy report contradicts any implication that caffeine was the cause of death. In the report, Rubio acknowledged she didn't perform a blood test at the hospital that would have revealed caffeine in her system. The report also reflects coroners did not conduct a "meaningful toxicologic" exam.

Though referring to the girl's death as "tragic," Monster declared it is being sued for millions of dollars "without any evidence whatsoever."

Lawyers representing Fournier's parents, Wendy Crossland and Richard Fournier, have brushed aside Monster's allegations that the case is without merit. They plan to establish Monster's liability through scientific studies and expert witnesses in a case that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration is investigating as part of a broader probe into the safety of energy drinks.

"There are many ways Plaintiffs can show that deadly amounts of caffeine from Monster's products entered into Anais' body and caused her death," wrote a lawyer from the R. Rex Paris Law Firm, one of the law firms representing the parents.

Plaintiffs cite skyrocketing increases in visits to emergency rooms due to caffeine overdoses and a finding from the American Academy of Pediatrics that caffeine in energy drinks is dangerous for children and adolescents like Fournier.

Monster, Parents Debate Medical Report Findings

Fournier's friends observed her drink two 24-ounce Monster beverages over the course of two days, according to court documents. During the evening of December 17, 2011, a few hours after consuming the second drink, Fournier suffered a cardiac arrest. Seeking to reduce swelling of the brain, doctors at John Hopkins Hospital placed her in an induced coma. She remained in a coma for nearly six days before the decision was made to remove her from life support, the lawsuit states.

The girl collapsed two to three hours after drinking a Monster beverage, according to the medical examiner's report, which doesn't name its source.

"Caffeine is also a potentially arrhythmogenic substance, which could have worked as a trigger in an underlying arrhythmogenic heart," Rubio wrote in the report.

In court documents, Monster declares Rubio's statement is far from conclusive in proving a link between caffeine and Fournier's death.

Through its outside counsel Callahan & Blaine, the Corona, Calif.-based company also cites medical records showing a history of heart problems dating back to when the teen was just six-years-old. Fournier's relatives have a history of heart problems, Monster said, noting that her mother Wendy had a pacemaker implanted and her maternal grandfather suffered a heart attack.

The case is in the early stages of litigation, but Monster already has asked a judge to require the plaintiffs to deposit a security bond of nearly $146,000 to cover costs should the company prevail. Monster says most of those expenses will be borne taking depositions out of state. Plaintiffs contend those costs are inflated and Monster is not entitled to such an "undertaking".

Attorney Jacob Karczewski at the R. Rex Parris Law Firm says Monster's costs to take the depositions are between $42,270 and $49,950, far lower than Monster's $132,000 estimate.

In deciding whether to require a bond, the judge must decide whether Monster has a "reasonable possibility" of winning. But lawyers for Fournier's parents argue the court also should consider the financial disparity between two single working adults and a beverage behemoth with $1.9 billion in annual revenues.

Monster, which hasn't filed an answer yet in the case, claims plaintiffs have failed to produce any admissible evidence showing its energy drinks caused Fournier's death.

There "is absolutely no causal connection whatsoever between Fournier's alleged consumption of Monster energy drinks and her cardiac arrest," Monster asserted. "In fact, all of the evidence points to her cardiac arrest having been caused by her pre-existing heart condition."

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