Panera 'Charged Lemonade' blamed for Ivy League student's death in family lawsuit

Sarah Katz, who went to the University of Pennsylvania, died on Sept. 10 after drinking Panera's 'Charged Lemonade,' her family alleges

The parents of a 21-year-old Ivy League student with a heart condition has filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Panera Bread, alleging the student passed away after drinking the restaurant chain's highly-caffeinated "Charged Lemonade" drinks.

The legal complaint was submitted Monday in the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas on behalf of the parents of former University of Pennsylvania student Sarah Katz. It calls the Panera beverage a "dangerous energy drink" and alleges the company knew that, once consumed, it "could injure children, pregnant and breastfeeding women, and people sensitive to caffeine – including those with underlying heart problems – by causing catastrophic injuries and/or death."

The filing says Katz was diagnosed with a heart disease called Long QT Type 1 Syndrome at age 5 and that she took daily medication and followed medical advice to abstain from consuming energy drinks and beverages with high caffeine levels.  

However, on Sept. 10, 2022, after buying a Charged Lemonade at a Panera location in Philadelphia, Katz went into cardiac arrest while she was with her friends and later had a second cardiac arrest episode at a hospital, where she ultimately was pronounced dead, the lawsuit added.   


College student Sarah Katz

Sarah Katz was a student at the University of Pennsylvania. (University of Pennsylvania)

"Decedent consumed the Panera Charged Lemonade, reasonably confident it was a traditional lemonade and/or electrolyte sports drink containing a reasonable amount of caffeine safe for her to drink," attorneys for Katz’ family wrote. 

In a statement to FOX Business, a Panera Bread spokesperson said the company was "very saddened" to learn "about the tragic passing of Sarah Katz and our hearts go out to her family. 

"At Panera, we strongly believe in transparency around our ingredients," the spokesperson added. "We will work quickly to thoroughly investigate this matter."

On its website, Panera says the drinks are available in three flavors – Fuji Apple Cranberry, Strawberry Lemon Mint and Mango Citrus – and come with 260mg of caffeine in a 20 fl. oz. serving and 390mg in a larger, 30 fl. oz. Size. The caffeine in them, Panera says, is from "caffeine, green coffee extract and guarana extract." 

"The NEW Panera Charged Lemonades are the ultimate energy drink guaranteed to charge up your day. Powered by Clean caffeine from guarana and green coffee extract, these caffeinated lemonades feature refreshing mango, cranberry, or strawberry mint flavors," Panera’s website adds. "These drinks are cold, caffeinated, and so ready for summer. Plant-based and Clean with as much caffeine as our Dark Roast coffee." 


However, the lawsuit included an image purporting to show how the lemonades are offered next to sodas and other self-serve drinks available for customers at Panera Bread, where Katz had purchased her beverage. 

"Defendants did not market, advertise, and sell Panera Charged Lemonade in the store as an ‘energy drink,’ which is a drink containing large amounts of caffeine, added sugar, other additives, and stimulants, such as guarana and/or taurine and/or L-carnitine (‘stimulants’)," the lawsuit says. 


Panera beverage display in store

A photo included in the lawsuit showing the "display of Panera Charged Lemonade" at the location in Philadelphia, where Sarah Katz purchased her drink the day she died, according to the lawsuit. (Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas)

The lawsuit adds that the caffeine level in the large-size Charged Lemonades exceeds that of a 12 oz. can of Red Bull and a 16 oz. can of Monster Energy Drink combined. 

"Because energy drinks have been shown to adversely affect the heart’s rhythm in patients with Long QT Syndrome, they should be avoided in Long QT patients," it states. "In addition to electrolyte enhanced beverages like Gatorade, Decedent was permitted to have reasonable amounts of caffeine but not energy drinks." 

The lawsuit concludes by asking the court for "judgment in their favor and against Defendants, jointly and severally, including claims for compensatory damages, punitive damages, interest, costs of suit, and such other relief as this Honorable Court may deem appropriate and just." 

The American Heart Association describes Long QT Syndrome (LQTS) as a "disorder of the heart’s electrical system, like other arrhythmias.  

"LQTS can cause abnormal heart rhythms in response to exercise or stress," it adds. "In LQTS, the lower chambers of the heart take too long to contract and release." 

The lawsuit says Katz, of Jersey City, New Jersey, was a student with an "exemplary record" who was "studying international relations and health and societies with a minor in East Asian languages and civilizations."

Panera Bread's Charged Lemonade is seen at a California restaurant

Dispensers for Charged Lemondade, a caffeinated lemonade drink, at Panera Bread, Walnut Creek, California, in March 2023. (Smith Collection/Gado/Getty Images / Getty Images)


"Before coming to the University of Pennsylvania, Decedent received a full merit scholarship to learn Mandarin at the University of Electronic Science and Technology of China in Chengdu, China," the lawsuit added. "Decedent also worked as a research assistant at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and served as a Red Cap Ambassador with the American Heart Association where she taught CPR in high schools and underserved communities."