Jury clears drink maker

Af­ter de­lib­er­at­ing just 15 min­utes, the panel finds Mon­ster En­ergy not li­able for a Texas man’s heart at­tack.

Los Angeles Times - - BUSINESS BEAT - By James Ru­fus Koren [email protected]­times.com Twit­ter: @jrko­ren

A River­side County jury has found that the maker of Mon­ster En­ergy drinks was not re­spon­si­ble for a Texas man’s de­bil­i­tat­ing heart at­tack, the lat­est le­gal vic­tory for the com­pany, which has been the tar­get of nu­mer­ous prod­uct-li­a­bil­ity law­suits.

Cody Bled­soe sued Corona-based Mon­ster Bev­er­age Corp. in 2014, say­ing the com­pany’s en­ergy drink was re­spon­si­ble for a heart at­tack he suf­fered the year be­fore when he was 18. The heart at­tack caused brain dam­age that Bled­soe’s at­tor­neys said lim­its his abil­ity to work and has led to high med­i­cal costs.

Mon­ster has been hit with nu­mer­ous sim­i­lar law­suits be­fore, though this is the first time a case has gone all the way to a jury trial.

Oth­ers have been set­tled or, more of­ten, dis­missed. A Florida law firm in 2016 filed and later dropped more than a dozen cases against Mon­ster. In Oc­to­ber, a woman in Ta­coma, Wash., dropped a 2017 law­suit in which she al­leged drinks from Mon­ster and ri­val bev­er­age maker Red Bull caused her hus­band’s death.

Marc Miles, an at­tor­ney for Mon­ster, said the jury in the Bled­soe case de­lib­er­ated for just 15 min­utes be­fore finding Thurs­day that the en­ergy drink did not lead to Bled­soe’s heart at­tack.

“This is the first case of this type to ever go to ver­dict, and I am pleased the jury lis­tened to the med­i­cal and sci­en­tific ev­i­dence and fol­lowed the law,” Miles said in a state­ment.

The com­pany has ar­gued in nu­mer­ous cases that its prod­ucts are safe, not­ing that they con­tain less caf­feine than many other bev­er­ages. A 16-ounce Mon­ster En­ergy drink con­tains 160 mil­ligrams of caf­feine, while a 16-ounce Star­bucks cof­fee con­tains 310 mil­ligrams, ac­cord­ing to the non­profit Cen­ter for Sci­ence in the Pub­lic In­ter­est.

“Peo­ple of­ten don’t un­der­stand what’s in the drink, and they make as­sump­tions,” Miles said in an in­ter­view. “When the sci­ence and the ev­i­dence come out, it’s clear.”

Bled­soe’s at­tor­ney, Greg Marks, said he plans to ap­peal the ver­dict. He said River­side Su­pe­rior Court Judge Sun­shine Sykes did not per­mit him to use sev­eral stud­ies that sug­gest en­ergy drinks — al­though not Mon­ster specif­i­cally — can cause ir­reg­u­lar heart rhythms that lead to heart at­tacks.

“The judge ex­cluded a lot of sci­en­tific stud­ies,” Marks said. “That ham­strung us a lit­tle bit.”

Mon­ster, now one of the largest mak­ers of en­ergy drinks, started in the 1930s as Hansen’s Juices, a South­ern Cal­i­for­nia fruit-juice dis­trib­u­tor. The com­pany, later called Hansen Nat­u­ral, branched out into nat­u­rally fla­vored soft drinks and later en­ergy drinks. The com­pany, which is pub­licly traded, changed its name to Mon­ster Bev­er­age Corp. in 2012.

In 2015, Coca-Cola Co. took a mi­nor­ity stake in Mon­ster and ac­quired the com­pany’s non-en­ergy drink busi­ness, in­clud­ing Hansen’s Nat­u­ral so­das.

Mon­ster is a spon­sor of ad­ven­ture sports, back­ing ath­letes and events in mixed martial arts, snow­board­ing and mo­tor­cy­cle racing. Over the years, the com­pany has faced al­le­ga­tions that it in­ap­pro­pri­ately mar­kets its prod­ucts to chil­dren and that its en­ergy drinks cause heart problems.

The com­pany noted in its an­nual re­port to the Se­cu­ri­ties and Ex­change Com­mis­sion that it has twice been sub­poe­naed by New York state reg­u­la­tors, who are in­ves­ti­gat­ing the com­pany’s advertising and in­gre­di­ents.

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