- After a four-year-long legal battle, a California jury found Monster Energy drinks was not responsible for the heart attack experienced by 18-year-old Cody Dean Bledsoe, according to a press release.
- In the case, Bledsoe faulted the energy drink company for not disclosing the amount of caffeine in the beverage or the quantity’s potential consequences — such as the cardiac arrest and the subsequent medical issues he suffered.
- This is the first such case to get a verdict, Marc Miles, an attorney at Shook, Hardy & Bacon, said in the release. Although the jury found Monster not to be at fault after only 15 minutes of deliberation, The Wall Street Journal reported Bledsoe’s lawyer plans to appeal the verdict, saying the judge excluded several important studies from evidence.
This ruling in favor of Monster Energy drinks is key as consumer sentiment trends more toward natural stimulants and away from the caffeine-filled hype that once propelled energy drinks into the hands of consumers everywhere.
What used to be a ubiquitous sight in grocery and convenience stores is now a product that has come under repeated scrutiny by a variety of stakeholders and consumers for its copious amounts of sugar and caffeine. Still, even with some negative press, energy drinks are a multibillion dollar business that is continuing to grow. According to research firm Euromonitor International, sales are expected to reach $15.3 billion in the U.S. this year. However, the annual growth rate has slowed to 1.5%. This is in stark contrast to 60% growth between 2008 and 2012.
A large part of the case had to do with the failure to disclose the quantity of several ingredients in the Monster beverages. Monster argued its products were safe and in fact contained fewer milligrams of caffeine than many other beverages. According to the Center for Science in the Public Interest, a 16-ounce Monster Energy drink contains 160 milligrams of caffeine, while a 16-ounce Starbucks coffee contains 310 milligrams.
"People often don't understand what's in the drink, and they make assumptions," Miles told The Wall Street Journal. "When the science and the evidence come out, it's clear."
But as far back as 2012, a report entitled "What’s all the Buzz about?” indicated a number of discrepancies, including "inconsistent marketing, labeling, and ingredient disclosure requirements [for] identical drinks being marketed to consumers differently, leading to confusion and a lack of transparency." The Los Angeles Times reported the company has received two subpoenas by New York regulators investigating the company’s advertising and ingredients.
This lack of transparency, coupled with energy drinks’ notorious penchant for marketing to minors, has resulted in a slew of lawsuits over the years. In October 2012, Monster was sued by the parents of a teen who went into cardiac arrest after drinking two of the company’s energy drinks in 24 hours. In May 2013, San Francisco’s city attorney filed a suit against Monster Beverage. Even as recently as earlier this year, Monster Beverage settled a class-action lawsuit that claimed some of its products were labeled as "natural" despite use of synthetic or artificial ingredients and added colors.
Monster Energy drinks isn't the only energy beverage to undergo this level of scrutiny. In October 2014, Red Bull faced a class-action lawsuit settlement of $13 million over false and misleading advertising, particularly in the use of words and phrases such as "gives you wings" and "boost." They lost the case and reimbursed customers who made a claim with either a $10 check or $15 voucher for more Red Bull products.
But this most recent case is the first to reach a jury and will most likely set a precedent going forward. Since the verdict was based on the plaintiff's inability to scientifically prove the energy drink was the cause of cardiac arrest, it will be difficult to sway any other juries in the future — unless new scientific studies come out showing otherwise. Even with an appeal in the works, the ruling may not be overturned.
While the ruling may not spur growth into the lagging industry, it may clear a few of the clouds surrounding its image and help guide its marketing efforts. As consumers push toward transparency, energy drinks have been struggling. Their claims of "natural” have come under fire and their ingredients have caused consumers to wonder what is truly inside the can. This ruling may give the industry some space to regroup and reassess its position in the market as companies continue to pursue growth.