A woman injured in a car accident filed a lawsuit against Four Loko, the makers of the controversial drink that combines alcohol and caffeine. The lawsuit against Four Loco claims that the driver of the car the woman was in had Four Loko before the car accident that injured the Plaintiff. The lawsuit names the driver (presumably the woman’s friend), Four Loko’s manufacturer, and even drags in the convenience store that sold the Four Loko. (The great, great-grandson of the first man to combine rum and coke was not named.)
I am assuming the lawsuit stems from the FDA’s warning last week that Four Loko and other caffeine-alcohol drink manufacturers have used caffeine as an unsafe food additive in the drinks. The FDA left the door open for further action.
Plaintiff’s lawyer’s theory of the case must be that because Four Loko masks sensory receptors that clue us into the fact that we have consumed too much. The driver did not know how much drinking they had done. There is truth to this. Clinical studies have repeatedly showed that ingestion of caffeine or other stimulants, and alcohol, a depressant, reduces subjective perceptions of alcohol-induced impairment. But can this be the but/for the cause of the man’s death?
Creative Lawyering But…
The plaintiff’s attorney has likely brought Four Loko into this because the driver has inadequate insurance to cover the Plaintiff’s loss. I’m all in favor of trying to find creative ways to maximize the value of an accident case, but obviously, the driver knew that the drink combines alcohol and caffeine. Is the Plaintiff really going to argue that the hidden risk of Four Loko was a substantial contributing cause to this car accident? What expert will say that the masking agent of caffeine was a substantial contributing cause of this crash?
I think this lawsuit never makes it to a jury. And, while I’m not a big fan of alcohol manufacturers, I think this is a good thing.
Another case was brought on similar facts. A father sued Four Loko (actually City Brewing Company, technically) over the death of his son. He asserted product liability claims, alleging that Four Loko’s caffeine/alcohol combination caused his son’s death.
What happened was the son hooked up with two friends at a gym and worked out. He was acting normal. After finishing the workout, he and his friends drove to the store and purchased two cans of Four Loko. They drove to a friends’ apartment. He drank two cans of Four Loko and acted in an irritated, agitated, and disoriented manner. At some point he got a shotgun… police… and the story ended in tragedy.
The trial court granted summary judgment for Four Loko. The dismissal was premised on the court’s view that California’s dram shop immunity applied since the man died because of experiencing the ordinary effects of consuming alcohol.
The appellate court saw it differently. It found that the drink targeted not the ordinary effects of alcohol, but the effects to the victim of the caffeine/alcohol combination.
What was the ultimate outcome? I don’t know.