Jim Porter: Beware of alcoholic energy drinks like Four Loko
February 5, 2015
This is an interesting case involving an alcoholic drink mixed with caffeine that you college kids are familiar with — Four Loko.
Oh, that's right, college kids don't read newspapers. Whatever.
Four Loko is an alcoholic drink mixed with caffeine served in 23.5-oz. cans. It is sometimes called "liquid cocaine," "liquid crack," and "blackout in a can." My kind of drink.
A single can of Four Loko contains as much alcohol as five to six 12-oz. cans of beer and as much caffeine as approximately four cans of Coca Cola or two cups of coffee. It also contains (or used to) the stimulants guarana, taurine and wormwood.
As formulated in October 2010, consumption of a single can of Four Loko would cause a 225-lb. man to be unlawfully intoxicated under California's traffic laws.
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Ron Fiorini, a 23-year-old college student at Fresno Pacific University, purchased two cans, went to his friend's house and drank both cans and some beer, then became agitated, disoriented and paranoid (I wonder why?), like his friends had never seen him before.
At one point, Fiorini located a shotgun and began firing at targets in the backyard. His housemates called 911 and when police officers arrived at the scene, Fiorini went out onto the front porch of the house with a shotgun resting on his shoulder.
COPS SHOOT DRINKER
You know what happened next. The police officers opened fire, shooting Fiorini eight times. He died instantly.
His family sued the manufacturer, distributer and retail seller of the Four Loko.
MIXING ALCOHOL, CAFFEINE, STIMULANTS
At trial, evidence was presented about the danger of mixing stimulants and alcohol, as the caffeine masks the effect of the alcohol.
A month after the Fiorini incident, too late for Fiorini, Four Loko was reformulated and the added caffeine removed.
Stay away from these products.
FOUR LOKO'S DEFENSE
The maker of Four Loko defended based on California's immunity laws for businesses "furnishing" alcohol to consumers who then commit crimes or injure others.
We've written about California's dram shop laws on several occasions. You remember.
Long story short, the Court of Appeal concluded that Four Loko's manufacturer, City Brewing, did not "furnish" the beverages to Fiorini. A Chevron convenience store clerk did. City Brewing is still on the hook.
INHERENTLY UNSAFE PRODUCTS DEFENSE
City Brewing pulled out yet another argument that I know you have never heard of.
Civil Code Section 1714 recites that a manufacturer or seller is not liable if someone is injured or killed as a result of ingesting an inherently unsafe product if the product is a "common consumer product" such as sugar, castor oil, alcohol or butter.
Again, the Court of Appeal ruled for Fiorini's family, concluding that because Four Loko mixed a high level of alcohol and stimulants like coffee into its energy drink, Four Loko was no longer a common consumer product. Irish coffees are different, said the Court.
Fiorini's family is able to take its case to a jury. I predict the courts will see more cases involving over-stimulated energy drinks blended with alcohol — or even without alcohol.
Jim Porter is an attorney with Porter Simon licensed in California and Nevada, with offices in Truckee, Tahoe City and Reno. Jim's practice areas include: real estate, development, construction, business, HOAs, contracts, personal injury, mediation and other transactional matters. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or http://www.portersimon.com.
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