The parents of Sarah Katz allege that the fast casual restaurant chain’s failure to warn consumers about the drink’s caffeine level led to daughter’s death
A 21-year-old college student with a heart condition died after drinking Panera’s caffeinated lemonade, and her parents believe her death was related to her consumption of the drink.
According to legal documents obtained by PEOPLE, the parents of Sarah Katz are suing the fast casual restaurant chain after their daughter’s death in September 2022. The complaint alleges Panera's Charged Lemonade is “unreasonably dangerous."
A regular size of the Charged Lemonade drink at Panera contains 260 milligrams of caffeine, while a large has 390 milligrams, according to Panera's website. The drink is advertised as containing “as much caffeine as our Dark Roast coffee.”
The suit recites that Katz was diagnosed with Long QT Type 1 Syndrome when she was five years old. The condition can cause irregular heart rhythms. The University of Pennsylvania student allegedly avoided stimulants like energy drinks and highly-caffeinated beverages throughout her life as a result of her diagnosis.
The parents’ lawsuit alleges that on Sept. 10, 2022, Katz bought and drank Panera’s Charged Lemonade “reasonably confident it was a traditional lemonade and/or electrolyte sports drink containing a reasonable amount of caffeine safe for her to drink."
Later tht day, Katz experienced cardiac arrest while at a restaurant with her friends. Once brought to Pennsylvania Presbyterian Hospital, she had another arrest and was pronounced dead.
Per the medical examiner’s report obtained by PEOPLE, Katz’s cause of death was “cardiac arrhythmia due to Long QT syndrome.”
"We were very saddened to learn this morning about the tragic passing of Sarah Katz, and our hearts go out to her family," a spokesperson for Panera told PEOPLE in a statement upon learning of the lawsuit. "At Panera, we strongly believe in transparency around our ingredients. We will work quickly to thoroughly investigate this matter."
One of the attorneys on the complaint, Elizabeth Crawford of Kline and Specter, PC, tells PEOPLE it’s “very important to the family to protect other people and make the public aware to save lives.”
According to the lawsuit, Katz was active in her university community. She served as the membership coordinator and CPR training project chair in the Student Committee on Undergraduate Education. She was also the social chair of her Sigma Kappa sorority.
Katz’s friend and roommate, Victoria Rose Conroy, told NBC News that she was meticulous about what she consumed.
Conroy added: “She was taken from us so soon, and she shouldn’t have been. She had so much more to give.”
In the past year, TikTok creators have called out Panera for the highly caffeinated lemonade. In December, one user, Sarah Baus (@sarahebaus) went viral after sharing an explainer on Panera's Mango Yuzu Citrus Charged Lemonade.
She compared it to a shot of espresso, which generally has about 63 milligrams of caffeine.
"I feel like the Hulk. And I'm drinking these, and I really like them. I said that I'm gonna water them down. But Panera, who's gonna create a product with  milligrams of caffeine? Look what you're doing!" said Baus.
The American Heart Association notes that most people can consume four to five cups of coffee per day, unless you are pregnant or certain health conditions and medications make you more sensitive to the effects of caffeine.
Panera patrons began to take note of the Charged Lemonade nutritional information when the beverage joined the menu in April 2022. "I don't have enough self control to handle this amount of access to caffeine," TikToker Anna Tschopp said.
At the time, Tschopp told the Daily Dot that there was an "alarming number of pregnant women commenting on my TikTok saying they had drank or been drinking it and they wouldn't have known about the high caffeine content if they didn't see my video."
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