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Mother of Dead Teen Sues Monster Energy

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CORONA, Calif.A wrongful death lawsuit on Tuesday was filed against Monster Beverage Corp. in California on behalf of a 19-year-old man. It is the second wrongful death complaint filed against the energy-drink giant, whose sales in the first quarter 2013 totaled $555 million.

Lawyers representing the deceased, Alex Morris, contend he consumed at least two 16-ounce cans of Monster's energy drink within the 24 hours prior to his death. The coroner listed the cause of death as cardiac arrhythmia and cardiomyopathy, and autopsy and toxicity reports confirmed the absence of illegal drugs or alcohol, the plaintiff's attorneys indicated in a press release.

Anais Fournier, whose parents sued Monster last year on behalf of their daughter, allegedly died under similar circumstances. Monster has blamed her death on a pre-existing heart condition known as Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome, and experts the company has retained concluded the beverages did not contribute to her death.

The Fournier lawsuit seeks general damages exceeding $25,000 and punitive damages, according to a May 10 regulatory filing. In the filing, Monster stated the lawsuit lacks merit and "any such damages, if awarded, would not have a material adverse effect on the Company's financial position or results of operations."

Monster said it is unaware of evidence linking its energy drinks to Morris' death.

"There is no coroners report cited that suggests his cardiac arrest was caused by drinking a Monster Energy Drink. Instead, the lawsuit admits that Mr. Morris consumed Monster Energy Drinks for years without incident," the company said in a statement. "Simply because Mr. Morris happened to have consumed a Monster Energy Drink or two on the day of his cardiac arrest does not establish any causal connection between the two."

"This lawsuit is yet another example of the how plaintiff lawyers can make any allegation in a lawsuit regardless of whether or not there is a factual basis for that allegation or allegations," Monster added.

As it has done in the Fournier lawsuit, Monster could attribute Morris' death to a heart condition. According to the National Institutes of Health, "Cardiomyopathy refers to diseases of the heart muscle."

"Our team is committed to holding energy drink companies accountable for the injuries and deaths that their products are causing to young people," Kevin Goldberg, one of the lawyers representing Morris, said in a statement. "We believe that it is important to get the word out to the public, and especially to parents of young people, that energy drinks can be lethal, particularly to anyone with an undiagnosed, underlying heart condition."

The latest complaint was filed in Alameda Count, Calif., by Paula Morris on behalf of her son. Some of the claims include "strict product liability, failure to warn and negligence in the design, sale and manufacturing of the product", Goldberg said.

Alex was born and raised in San Francisco, where Monster and the City Attorney Dennis Herrera have sued each other.

Herrera launched a months-long probe into the company's marketing and sales practices. Monster has asked a federal court to declare that Herrera's attempts to regulate its energy drinks are unconstitutional, preempted by federal law and solely within the province of the FDA.

FDA has been investigating the safety of energy drinks and shots after reports surfaced linking the beverages to deaths and other serious health problems. Under federal law governing dietary-supplement firms, companies who become aware of such "adverse event reports" (AERs) must send the information to FDA. The agency has underscored the reports don't prove that a product caused, or contributed to, to the health problem.

Earlier this year, Monster announced plans to subject itself to conventional food regulations. Such a change would relieve the company from the obligation to report the AERs to FDA. 

In a statement May 8, coinciding with the company's financial results for the period ending March 31, Monster Chairman and CEO Rodney Sacks said, "We reiterate that our energy drinks are safe, based on both our and the industry's long track record and the scientific evidence supporting the safety of our ingredients."

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