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Students and community members honored the life of Sarah Katz by taping photos and notes to the LOVE Statue on Sept. 16, 2022.

Credit: Jesse Zhang

The family of Sarah Katz – a Penn student with a heart condition who died last September – filed a lawsuit against Panera, alleging that she died after drinking its Charged Lemonade. 

According to the lawsuit, which was filed Monday morning in the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas, Katz suffered from a heart condition called long QT syndrome type 1 and, therefore, avoided energy drinks at the recommendation of her doctors. On the day of her passing, Katz consumed a 30-ounce Charged Lemonade from a Panera at 200 S. 40th St. and went into cardiac arrest hours later.

Katz, 21, was a College junior at the time of her death. Katz grew up in Jersey City, N.J., worked as a research assistant at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, and served as a Rep Cap Ambassador with the American Heart Association, among other commitments. At Penn, Katz studied international relations and health and societies with a minor in East Asian languages and civilizations. 

Katz was heavily involved in the Penn community. She served as a membership coordinator and CPR training project chair in the Student Committee on Undergraduate Education and was a student leader in the John Marshall Pre-Law Honor Society, a member in Penn Hillel, and was the social chair of Sigma Kappa sorority.

Elizabeth Crawford, a partner at Kline & Specter, PC, is representing the Katz family. Crawford said that Katz was careful to avoid the consumption of any goods that may cause a medical reaction.

“She was very vigilant about her heart condition, [and] she managed it with medication. She went to her cardiac appointments, and she followed her doctor’s advice,” Crawford told The Daily Pennsylvanian.

The suit said that Katz became a member of Panera’s Unlimited Sip Club – which allows individuals to consume unlimited drinks – on Sept. 1, 2022. The Charged Lemonade was offered alongside Panera’s non-caffeinated and lightly-caffeinated drinks and was described as “plant-based and clean.” 

“Our hearts go out to her family,” a Panera Bread spokesperson wrote in a statement to NBC News. “At Panera, we strongly believe in transparency around our ingredients. We will work quickly to thoroughly investigate this matter.”

In the filing, the Charged Lemonade is described as a “dangerous energy drink,” as it includes more caffeine than Panera’s dark roast coffee, in addition to sugar and another stimulant. The amount of caffeine included in a large Charged Lemonade is 390 milligrams — only ten milligrams below the recommended daily dose of 400 milligrams for healthy individuals.

“She was told to generally avoid energy drinks, with the difference between them and coffee being that they don’t just contain caffeine, they contain another stimulant... and a lot of sugar as well,” Crawford said.

A medical examiner’s report obtained by the DP suggests that Katz’s cause of death was cardiac arrhythmia due to long QT syndrome.

Crawford said that the family’s goal in filing the lawsuit was to raise awareness of the drink’s contents, remove the drink from Panera’s shelves, and urge the Food and Drug Administration to regulate energy drinks. Currently, manufacturers can include unlimited amounts of caffeine in energy drinks by classifying them as supplements, Crawford said. 

“The objective here is, at the bare minimum, to make sure that the public is aware of what is in this drink, and how much caffeine is in this drink,” Crawford said. 

Crawford also suggested that Katz’s situation is not an isolated event, as she has heard from many people who have had or heard of similar experiences with Panera’s Charged Lemonade.

“There have been countless numbers of people that have come forward to me, in response to the articles that have come up on social media and on different forums, indicating that there have been other adverse experiences requiring hospitalization or death,” Crawford said.