A Maryland teenager died the evening of Saturday, February 18, 2012, when he fell from a moving car and was struck by another vehicle. Michael Truluck, age 13, had allegedly consumed an energy drink containing alcohol earlier in the evening with friends. He was reportedly feeling sick, and his friends said he had vomited twice when his mother’s fiance came to pick him up. During the ride home, he reportedly removed his seat belt and opened the car door, while the car was in motion, in order to vomit again. He fell out and was struck by a Ford Explorer. Police have said they will not file charges against the driver of the Explorer.
Initial news reports indicated that the boys were drinking Four Loko, an alcoholic beverage once marketed as an energy drink. Subsequent reports from the Associated Press said that it was not clear exactly what drink they were consuming. Police were also not sure who provided them with the drinks, although they suspect an adult in the neighborhood. Truluck’s mother has stated that she believes the drink caused her son’s death by making him so ill that he lost control of his actions. She told the Baltimore Sun that she believes he was so sick because of the drink that he was not aware of anything except the need to vomit. She is now speaking out against underage drinking.
The beverage marketed as “Four Loko” has already had a controversial history. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued warnings that mixing caffeine or other chemicals often used in energy drinks with alcohol posed a number of health risks. It can prevent a person from full awareness of their own intoxication because the caffeine or other supplement masks the direct effect of the alcohol, but the person is nevertheless impaired. The FDA called this a “wide-awake drunk” effect. Four Loko’s manufacturer, Phusion Projects, reportedly reformulated the drink in 2010 to remove caffeine, but it continued to include alcohol in the formula. Some states banned the sale of the drinks when several college students died after allegedly consuming Four Loko.
The family of a teenager in the D.C. area who died in a car accident after allegedly drinking Four Loko filed suit against Phusion in 2011 fro wrongful death, alleging that the company was negligent in producing a drink that “desensitizes users to the symptoms of intoxication,” thus increasing the risk of injury. His death occurred a few weeks before Phusion announced its reformulation.
The family could have a claim against a manufacturer of a drink that combines caffeine and alcohol for a form of products liability. Since the FDA had concluded that energy drinks with alcohol pose a health risk, a manufacturer could face liability for a design or manufacturing defect in its product. By creating a product that it know has the potential to cause harm, the manufacturer could theoretically be liable for injuries suffered by a person who consumes the drink, or even for injuries caused by that person. In the cases described here, the damages would be for wrongful death, based on the allegation that the effects of the drink caused the teens’ deaths.
The Maryland personal injury lawyers at Lebowitz & Mzhen are skilled at pursuing justice for people injured due to faulty or defective products. Contact us today online or at (800) 654-1949 for a free and confidential consultation.
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DC Area Teen’s Family Files Wrongful Death Lawsuit Against Four Loko Manufacturer, Washington DC Injury Lawyer Blog, May 30, 2011
Photo credit: ‘mean bean’ by KD Kelly on stock.xchng.