Four Loko Lawsuit Filed Over Drunken Suicide As FDA Issues Ban

  • Written by: Staff Writers

A wrongful death lawsuit has been filed against Phusion Projects Inc. after a Florida man got drunk on Four Loko, a controversial alcoholic energy drink, and shot himself in the head with a pistol. 

The family of Jason Keiran, 20, filed the Four Loko lawsuit in Orange County Circuit Court on Friday, less than a week before the FDA issued warning letters to Phusion and other energy drink makers that it considers caffeine an unsafe additive for alcoholic beverages, which will shut down the entire alcoholic energy drink industry.

The FDA’s alcoholic energy drink warning letter, issued yesterday, comes after a year-long investigation by agency into the safety of drinks that mix large amounts of alcohol and caffeine, like Four Loko. By warning about the combination of caffeine and alcohol, and the FDA has essentially forced an alcoholic energy drink recall and ban.

Keiran, a college student, died two months ago after drinking Four Loko that he purchased in a Tallahassee store. Witnesses said that he binged all day on the drink, telling friends that he felt fine due to the caffeine. Some experts say that the effects of the caffeine can override the body’s warning signs about intoxication, spurring them on to riskier behavior and more drinking. After consuming a large amount of the drink, Keiran put a .22-caliber pistol to his head and fired, killing himself.

Earlier this week, Phusion Projects bowed to public pressure and the impending FDA ban, announcing that it would remove caffeine and other energy drink properties from Four Loko. In its current formulation, Four Loko has a 12% alcohol content, equivalent to about four beers, and three times the amount of caffeine as a regular cup of coffee, all in a 23.5-ounce can that sells for as little as $2.75. After nine Washington state college students were hospitalized for binge drinking Four Loko, it was dubbed “blackout in a can.” Four Loko is the most popular alcoholic energy drink on the market, with an estimated $200 million in annual sales.

The FDA acknowledged that Phusion’s announcement to pull caffeine from Four Loko is a positive step, but said it has not been officially notified by the company that it intends to do so.

The FDA warning letters were sent to Phusion, as well as Charge Beverages Corp., which makes the Core High Gravity line of alcoholic energy drinks; New Century Brewing Co., LLC, which produces Moonshot; and United Brands Company Inc., which manufactures Joose and Max. Major alcoholic beverage producers, including Anheuser-Busch and MillerCoors had already bowed out of the alcoholic energy drink business last year, voluntarily removing Tilt, Sparks, and Bud Extra from the market.

The letters come over objections from Phusion that their drinks are safe and that other alcohol and caffeine combinations, such as Irish coffee and rum-and-coke, have gone unquestioned.

“FDA does not find support for the claim that the addition of caffeine to these alcoholic beverages is ‘generally recognized as safe,’ which is the legal standard,” said Dr. Joshua M. Sharfstein, Principal Deputy Commissioner, in the FDA press release announcing the letters. “To the contrary, there is evidence that the combinations of caffeine and alcohol in these products pose a public health concern.”

The letter requires the companies to respond within 15 days as to how they will address the problem, and warns that if caffeine is not removed from the drinks or the drinks taken off the market, they could face further action, including seizure of their products.

In October 2008, a group of one hundred scientists and physicians, led by a neuroscientist at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, sent a petition to the FDA urging the agency to increase regulation of all energy drinks, including non-alcohol energy drinks, such as Red Bull, Rock Star, Monster and Full Throttle. The experts indicated that the wide disparity in caffeine and alcohol content in various brands of energy drinks is not properly noted on the products, increasing the risk of caffeine intoxication and alcohol-related injuries.

A product liability lawsuit was filed against MillerCoors over Sparks in September 2009 by the Center for Science in the Public Interest, a consumer advocacy group. The Center charged that Sparks contained unauthorized additives and posed a safety and health risk to consumers. The lawsuit also alleged that Sparks was actively marketed to minors and other young people. Anheuser-Busch faced similar lawsuits from advocacy groups and state attorney generals before they pulled Tilt and Bud Extra.

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  1. Anonymous Reply

    Just because he drank Four Loko all day does not mean he would kill himself. He was probably depressed. If he would have drank any other form of alcohol this entire story would go unnoticed.

  2. jay Reply

    Bull…. That person had problems. If he drank all day and killed himself, it’s not Four Loko’s fault. Maybe his family should have been there for him instead of cashing in on his death.

  3. Ron Reply

    It would appear that the FDA is very easily pacified by the defense of big business’ lawyers. Look at the situation with smoking and drinking alcohol. These are among the biggest killers in not just the North America and Europe, but the world; yet the FDA stupidly sits back and swallows all their arguments to the safety of these items. Caffeine laced drinks are murderous, yes; but they have only become competition for the alcohol industry. They have so far hurt a handful of people. But smoking and alcohol have destroyed their millions, yet they must and can continue to maim and decimate according to the law and the FDA. The FDA needs to be tried, drawn and quartered so more sensible and fair minded people can take over. The FDA operates through greed and favoritism towards big business in a large part, although not entirely.

  4. Yo BZ Reply


  5. Random Guy Reply

    The lawsuit against Phusion Projects is incredibly stupid. It is a tragedy that such a young person killed themselves, but it has nothing to do with the kid deciding to kill themselves. What if he was eating ice cream before he killed himself? Should they sue baskin-robbins? I hate this sue everyone over anything culture just because you are upsett that something bad happened.

  6. Ethan Reply

    Should the company be held responsible for the actions of the consumer? I don’t see any actions being taken on any other companys for other alcohol related deaths (drunk driving fatalities). They aren’t liable for a drunk driver for getting behind a wheel, just like they shouldn’t be liable for this child putting a pistol to his head.

    On the other side of the argument, I have had a Four Loko before and it does create an awkward (for lack of a better word) sense of inebriation. For me, It just made me want to sit on the couch to wait until the effect wore off.

    The victim is 20 and by law shouldn’t be able to buy alcohol. Why wasn’t there more done about the store that sold to him illegally?

  7. A-Non Reply

    The person who chose to drink the beverage should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law, even though he’s dead. He verbally disclosed he was aware of what was happening to him. He knowingly purchased and knowingly consumed this beverage in large quantities. He then used a .22 weapon which he put to his own head and pulled the trigger with intent to harm himself.

    This person was 20 years old, which is not the legal age of 21 years old to purchase or consume alcohol. Therefore, the people who sold the beverage to this boy, or the people who bought the beverage for this boy, or the people who witnessed this underaged boy drinking should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law, especially since they were playing Russian Roulette with him.

  8. jon Reply

    what a litigious, cowardly society we are becoming. are we going to sue the manufacturers of fast cars or motorcycles when we die in them? maybe sue the people who manufactured the gun? give it a rest.

  9. nemo Reply

    These attorneys are scum. I suppose if I eat rat poison my family can sue. And the family are money grubers.

  10. Ajax the Great Reply

    Once again, reality makes satire obsolete. Talk about frivolous. It’s called personal responsibility, folks.

  11. Jeremy Reply

    This lawsuit is beyond frivalous. The family should be fined for even bringing in to court.

  12. Alejandro Reply

    Where did this 20 year old obtain a pistol? Does he have any history of mental illness or depression? The drink made him put the gun in his mouth? How is four loko responsible for this? Exactly…it’s like school shootings and stabbings, parents blame music, video games, movies, and now drinks? The keyword in this story is “BINGE”. These morons are binge drinking. Binge drinking any alcoholic beverage isn’t safe. It’s not just energy drinks! Everything is harmful for you in excess. Cigarettes, fast food, alcohol…so guess what? if we’re holding four loko responsible for one person’s stupid mistake…are we going to ban ciagrettes for the millions of deaths that occur? or any said beer company for accidents that are due to alcohol impairment? This is ridiculous! When are people going to take responsibilty for the stupid mistakes they do on a regular basis? I feel no sympathy for the college students that are dying from these drinks because if they drink 4 cans of a 12% alcohol volume drink in a span of 2 hours…what are they expecting to happen?! Nothing? Absolutely absurd.

  13. Rachael Reply

    OK, so, an underage kid was allowed to purchase this drink, binged ALL day, more than likely drinking other alcohol as well, and killed himself… and the family is filing suit against the makers of the drink instead of the store that sold to him/the person that bought it for him? How is it the manufacturer’s fault that someone used their product incorrectly and illegally? It is sad that this boy died, however he made the choice to drink and then “play” with the firearm. I understand that rather than blame their child, it is more than likely easier for the family to blame someone else, but it is not fair to those who choose to drink these products and do so legally and “safely”. As with any type of alcoholic beverage, there is risk involved, but the drinking age is 21 years old for a reason. This boy not only violated the law by purchasing the drink, but he did it again by drinking it. He is just as at fault as the owner/cashier of the store and the manufacturer of the drink.

  14. sadf Reply

    why is it the the FDA can ban four Loko after a few doctors petition it but somehow I’m still able to buy cigarettes which have been known to be deadly for decades?

    seems like the FDA is in the big tobacco pocket.

  15. Jonny Reply

    I think this is a bit out of control. 9 kids got drunk at a party. It happens all the time. They drank too much and would have drank as much if it were another product. A guy shoots himself. It happens all the time. He was predisposed to do so and perhaps he drank to give him the courage to go through with it. Same would have happened with any other beverage.

    I think it’s enough to properly label these drinks on the front. I think there is way too much caffene in them, but I don’t see the big deal for those who like it. I know a few people who mix liquor with Red Bull which makes that drink not much different than the others mentioned.

    When are they going to remove the poisons in cigarettes? Anyone ever think about removing the tar and nicotine from those death sticks? If they did, people wouldn’t smoke them. More people die from the toxins in cigarettes than caffine infused alcohol. How about all that salt in processed foods? I think the FDA has their priorities misaligned.

  16. Charles Reply

    I can’t help but think that this whole thing is completely obscured and ridiculous – For anyone to blame the alcohol or is mixture is utterly and completely ridiculous – it like trying to blame hand guns for all the murders in America – if children under age children are getting there hands on this alcohol, then thats an issue of the business establishments that are selling it – if minors are getting a hold of this alcohol due to adults then thats an issue of the enforcement of the gun tobacco and firearms laws – I as an adult have drink the Four Locos and the Joose and I personally like to drink them from time to time and find no problem with them – but as usual the media has to pick up on this just as they have the Pitt Bull Dogs and blow it way out of proportion – because if the blind would quit believing the media they’ed find out that the number one dog bread for bite or dog attacks in America is none other then the Collie???

  17. Robert Reply

    If I were selected for this jury I would have a pre-selection opinion that there is no lawsuit to decide. Jason Keiran, 20, legally an adult, freely chose to purchase this drink. he was not forced to do so. He is responsible for his own actions and responsible for knowing what he is putting into his body. This was not a medication prescribed by a doctor. this was an over the counter drink that had all the ingredients listed on the packaging of the product. Suing someone for the stupidity of a loved one will never justified. EVERYONE is responsible for their OWN actions. Even if it causes their own death. IF there is proof that he did not drink this product of his own free will, I would of course re-think my position on this matter.

  18. c takach Reply

    I believe it is the extremely high amounts of alcohol and caffeine per can and the ability to drink larger amounts and thinking it’s only a few cans. These amounts cloud the mind and make inexperienced youth take risks that they may not take had they had a few beers instead. Open your eyes and understand that it’s the alcohol / caffeine mixture that makes these drinks lethal. Youth are known risk takers as they have not learned yet the dangers of just alcohol let alone these souped up drinks. Being a parent of and adult child and a teenager I can’t wait for these items to be banned. It’s teenage human nature and peer pressure that gets most kids into trouble.

  19. kt Reply

    First off, the kid was 20 not even 21. Granted he lived in a college town, but still, no one forced him to buy the drink. Second, I am a fan of Four Loko’s. I think they are no different than drinking any other alcoholic drink. You must drink responsibly. Other people should not have to suffer because of someone who was drunk. Kids do crazy stuff when they drink. They usually try to show off for their friends. It’s absolutely absurd. Four Loko’s are the perfect drink for people. It’s cheap, it taste good, and it does the job. You have to monitor your intake, just like any other drink. I think to ban them would be bad. There’s always going to be something else that comes out if these get banned.

  20. Tammy Reply

    so if they are allowed to pursue –and be compensated for this frivalous charge of the company, I will file one too on behalf of my sons who drink it and I swear their personalities change drastically after consuming them.

  21. Bill Reply

    Okay, you folks seem to have missed one big point: 4 Loko was being marketed as being “as safe as a beer.” Yet it wasn’t, and the company knew it. It is designed as “you can keep drinking them” yet the health hazards of more than one energy drink are well known. This product encouraged drinking multiple quantities of it, thus causing more than drunkenness. The caffeine and taurine components, in the quantities found in only one can, are dangerous in and of themselves, and can lead to heart arhythmia, and 3 or more can cause a heart attack, even in someone who would normally be considered healthy.

    I know all too much about this, because my son also died as a result of too many of these drinks, only two weeks before this unfortunate lad (who had zero history of depression, read other stories about him on the Internet.)

    This stuff is lethal, and by them announcing they were removing the caffeine and taurine they are tacitly admitting they know this to be true. I truly hope that EVERYONE who has lost a loved one due to this shit bring a suit against them — they knew a year ago how dangerous their product is, yet continued to market it. This falls under the category of “willful homicide” on their part. (It is NOT negligent homicide, as they were aware of the risks and sold it anyway.)

  22. Miss T Reply

    thinking of this rationally…I mean really…it’s a beverage on the market, but it’s not supposed to be missused. Too much of anything is bad for you (even water). I think the victims should have been more responsible. But, since they werent they should be examples for others wanting to push their limit.

  23. shyrell Reply

    you guys sound dumb..i been drinkin 4 lokos but kno wen to st0p…to me it seem like ppl dnt drink responsible and dont kno wen to stop at all there is no need to drink 3 or 4 at a time like forreal a half of can is good nd their is no way u can blame a alcoholic drink for anything it already says to drink responsible so your on your this story about this 20 yr boy drinking hello he 20 not 21 should of never consumed alcohol in the first place so thats his fault NOT 4 LOKO this ridiculous but i guarantee four lokos aint goin down they product makes millionaire of dollars and a lot of people supportin them nd this story is just to funny lol so i guess drunk driving isnt as bad as consuming a four loko…

  24. fsustudent Reply

    I personally knew the person this article is about, and he was one of the happiest people I have ever been around. People were instantly drawn to him, andhe made friends very quickly. He was known for giving his number out to people he just met to plan fishing trips or to go golfing. Unfortunately, Jason liked to drink and he loved Four Lokos for the fact that he could stay up all night and party. He would have never in his right mind done something like this, especially in front of his friends, if he was sober enough to stop and consider the consequences. It is hurtful to his friends and his family to just assume that he was some stupid kid playing with a gun. He was a very bright person and an engineering major here at FSU. He planned on going to law school. He made a stupid mistake when he was drunk and paid the ultimate price. His family is suing this company so that other people don’t have to deal with the loss of a child due to this dangerous mix of caffiene and alcohol. Please have some respect.

  25. Carrie Reply

    fsustudent u go! people r too crazy over four lokos cuz they r cheap. they dont realize the extreme dangers of this product

  26. donnell Reply

    I think there is something wrong with the four lokos driink. I was haveing severe back problems in the kidney area i went to thr doctor several times and they found 1 time a bladder infection so i wasnt drinkin for a few. I startex bac drinkin four lokos and my back worsen do i went to the doctor again they did xrays n checked my urine n pnly found a spec of blood which they said my lidneys ok . But i still was drinkin and my back wuz still botherin me. I kinda got away from four lokos awhlie and my back stop hurting, i drunk a four loko yesterday and my side slighty started hurting again which now i believe they r whts been causeing me to have back problems in my kidney area.

  27. NicCuev86 Reply

    I like how parents can blame FOURLOKO for there sons death, and not the fact that he put a gun to his head and pulled the trigger or blame the person who bought him the booze since he was an underage drinker.I have drank FOURLOKO and nvr had the thought of playing with a gun and blowing my brains out, maybe there were more underlying problems with this guy.No, let us keep teaching the youth of this nation that if they fuck up we can always blame it on someone else.

  28. imaginedat Reply

    I like how people who really enjoy a substance back it up no matter what. Of course you hate the FDA for taking away your four loko. So does the heroin addict.

  29. destiny Reply

    I would like to find out information on how to put a lawsuit on these people well for my son,he drank these drink religiously and blacked out and did things he normally would have never done,it cost him his job(w/the city)a great job and his family all cause he did things while he blacked out and did not remb.a damn thing!

  30. Kona_Babe Reply

    Too much of anything is not good, that is common sense and if people aren’t capable of learning that lesson, the gene pool needs some cleansing and frivolous lawsuits need to be thrown out of court so decent folk can get their court dates at a reasonable time instead of waiting months.
    Our court system is anything but just and it’s about time people start working together and stop tearing up what is good cause all we are ending up with at the moment is bad people being rewarded and good people working and paying out and getting nothing in return .

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