While it may seem that what a person consumes is an individual choice, and therefore not the responsibility of the manufacturer or seller of a product, in specific cases, the law can take a different view of the duty of care of those parties.
When consumed in moderation, energy drinks such as Red Bull should cause no ill effect in the vast majority of consumers, but rather provide a mild boost of energy akin to that after a cup of coffee. However, in large quantities or after prolonged use, the active ingredients can cause health problems – or so claims a lawsuit filed against the company by the family of a New York man who died after drinking Red Bull.
The family further claims that Red Bull uses deceptive marketing and advertising techniques that downplay or completely misrepresent the potential dangers of their product to consumers. The lawsuit alleges that as many as eighteen others have died as a direct result of consuming the energy drinks, with thousands more hospitalized.
The concept of duty of care requires corporations or individuals to take reasonable care that their products, actions, or even inaction will not cause foreseeable harm to another party. In this case, the man’s family and their legal team would have to prove that the manufacturer of Red Bull owed the deceased a duty of care, and that the beverage somehow caused his heart attack. Finally, in order to prove that the duty of care was breached, they would have to show that Red Bull and its parent knew or ought to have known of the potentially harmful effects of their product and did not take enough action to prevent the inappropriate use of Red Bull.
While only time will tell whether the courts agree that the company contributed to the man’s death, the outcome of this case could potentially be as prominent as the high-profile “hot coffee” Liebeck v. McDonald’s case, which reconfirmed that in appropriate cases, corporations will be held responsible for injury or illness suffered by their customers through the use of their products.