Robert Grim was driving to work when the nausea set in. As his vision blurred, the Arizona resident pulled over to the side of the road and called in sick. His symptoms only worsened at home, he said.
The twentysomething rushed to the emergency room that day in December 2014 and would soon learn he had stage 4 kidney disease, court papers charge.
Grim claimed he downed a can of Monster Energy before leaving the house, just as he’d always done for the last 10 years. Until his diagnosis, Grim guzzled four of the energy drinks a day—or the caffeine jolt equivalent of eighteen 12-oz cans of Coca-Cola, according to a new lawsuit filed against the beverage maker.
Now he’s on dialysis and awaiting a kidney transplant, according to the lawsuit.
Grim is one of five people to file lawsuits against Monster Beverage Corp. this month, alleging irreversible and near-fatal health problems they claim were caused by long-term use of the energy drink.
The civil suits allege habitual drinkers of the caffeine bombs suffered heart attacks, stroke, and renal failure, among other health concerns. The lawsuits allege Monster is guilty of negligence, defective design, failure to warn of risks associated with consuming the drink and other potential violations. And the attorneys say energy drinks like Monster say they’re as bad for young people as cigarettes.
“These cans lack all types of warnings,” attorney Mike Morgan, whose Florida law firm is representing the consumers, told The Daily Beast.
“The thing that’s most stunning is the lack of transparency,” Morgan added. “There’s been no change in their formula, no change in practices, no change in warnings. They never released documents to show they’re safe.
“A consumer has a right to know what they are putting in their body and not be misled.”
In a statement, Monster Beverage called one of the plaintiff’s claims “a copy-cat case filed by personal injury lawyers… trying to make a cottage industry out of suing energy drink companies.”
Monster was referring to a case filed by Joel Rine, a 43-year-old Kansas man who claimed he had a stroke after ingesting six 16-ounce cans every day for five years.
“There is no merit in the case whatsoever, and Monster will vigorously defend it,” the beverage powerhouse continued. “As the case progresses, it will likely be revealed that Mr. Rine suffered from preexisting health conditions that caused his injuries—completely unrelated to consumption of a Monster Energy drink.”
It’s not the first time energy-drink behemoths have faced litigation.
In 2013, a California mom sued Monster after her 19-year-old son, Alex Morris, died from cardiac arrhythmia. Paula Morris alleged Alex consumed two cans of the energy drink every day for three years—including the day he died.
The year before, the family of 14-year-old Anais Fournier of Maryland filed a suit against Monster, claiming the drink’s glut of caffeine contributed to her death.
Fournier, who had an heart condition, went into cardiac arrest after gulping two 24-oz cans within a 24-hour period, her parents claim. An autopsy found caffeine toxicity impeded her heart’s ability to pump blood, CBS reported.
In recent years, the Food and Drug Administration has probed claims of death and serious injury linked to energy-drink manufacturers 5-Hour Energy and Monster.
Still, Monster claims a 16-oz can contains less than half the caffeine of a medium Starbucks coffee. The company also said its ingredients, such as taurine, l-carnitine and inositol, have been in infant formulas for decades.
“There is much false information in prior media stories that continues to be repeated by personal injury lawyers, and then by journalists, who are unaware that those facts have been proved false,” the company said in a statement, adding, “Monster will continue to prove its case in court.”
Morgan scoffed at Monster’s “copy-cat case” comeback.
“My response to that is … what happened to all these other lawsuits? Did they ever pay anybody? Did they ever release their formula? Did they require confidentiality on documents they released?” he said.
“We’re demanding accountability,” Morgan continued. “If they can produce that, then they can say we’re creating a cottage industry and it’s not a problem. But I don’t think they’re going to do that.”
Morgan, who is asking Monster consumers to visit energydrinkslawsuit.com, says his clients were 14 to 42 years old when they encountered health problems due to the drinks.
John Staten, a then-14-year-old student athlete in West Virginia, quaffed Monster to pump up for wrestling and football practice, Morgan told The Daily Beast.
But when he woke one day in February 2012, he collapsed after having difficulty speaking and numbness on his left side, according to a lawsuit filed in Riverside County, California.
Emergency room doctors initially dismissed his symptoms as a pinched nerve because of his age. Staten had an MRI days later, and his pediatrician determined he had suffered a stroke, court papers said.
Staten claims he ingested three 24-oz Monster cans over a three-month period—the equivalent caffeine amount of twenty-one 12-oz cans of Coca-Cola, the lawsuit states.
“It’s not like if you get a staph infection and doctors give you an antibiotic and undo what was done,” Morgan told The Daily Beast. “There is no reversal. Once it’s done, it’s done forever, and we’re allowing children to make these decisions.”
Morgan said one new client is the family of 26-year-old father who “religiously drank Monster” and passed away this week. The New Port Richey, Florida, man coughed up blood and died of a heart attack, the attorney said.
In court papers, the Morgan & Morgan firm states “caffeine can be lethal in doses ranging from 200-400 milligrams” and that one 16-ounce can of Monster contains 160 milligrams of the drug.
Monster bypassed FDA regulation by billing itself as a “dietary supplement,” rather than a “food,” when it launched in 2002. According to the lawsuits, Monster did so to avoid limits on caffeine content imposed on soft drinks and other beverages.
But in 2013, facing questions over the product’s safety, Monster marketed its products as “beverages” instead. At the time, Monster spokeswoman said the company wouldn’t alter its recipe but planned to add a label showing caffeine content per can, CNN reported.
The new lawsuits charge that as a “beverage,” Monster isn’t required to report adverse health events to the FDA or “at least not in the same manner as it was required to when its product was labeled as an “Energy Supplement.’”
“Even now, they still hide behind a loophole where they can list their proprietary energy blend without listing how much caffeine is in those ingredients,” Morgan told The Daily Beast.
“There should be a warning on the cans, and age restrictions on who should buy it,” he added. “If we wouldn’t let a 14-year-old buy a pack of cigarettes, we shouldn’t let them buy these drinks if we don’t know what’s in them.”