TACOMA — The family of a 25-year-old found dead in the bathroom of his Fife home has sued energy drink companies in connection to the death.
Anton Omelin regularly drank Red Bull, NOS and Monster beverages before he died Oct. 30, 2014, according to the lawsuit. His wife, Anna Omelin, alleges her husband drank at least four 16-ounce cans a day.
“He was a healthy young man,” her attorney, Olga Efimova said.
Anna Omelin brought the lawsuit against Red Bull, Monster and the Hansen Beverage Co., which does business as Monster, and distributes Monster and NOS drinks.
The suit contends the companies should warn consumers not to use their products with alcohol, while exercising or in excess. Such warnings, the suit says, would have stopped Anton Omelin from doing those things.
The companies argue their products are safe.
Monster said in a statement that a Monster Energy drink has half the caffeine of a Starbucks coffee.
In addition, the company said, “While our hearts go out to the family of Anton Omelin, there is no medical or scientific basis to support any causal connection between Monster Energy drinks and the death of Mr. Omelin.
“... There is no explanation as to any link between his death and any energy drinks, let alone Monster branded energy drinks.”
The Center for Science in the Public Interest said in 2014 that 34 deaths had been linked to energy drinks since 2004. And the industry has faced other wrongful death lawsuits in recent years.
Some of those were dismissed last year, according to Monster.
“Last year, another personal injury law firm that filed more than a dozen similar lawsuits abandoned and dismissed them all,” the company said in its statement. “There is no merit to this case either.”
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A statement from Red Bull said the company does not comment on specific legal matters, but that their energy drink “is available in 171 countries because health authorities around the world have concluded that Red Bull Energy Drink is safe to consume.”
The complaint was filed Oct. 18 in U.S. District Court in Tacoma, and seeks unspecified damages. It gives this account of Omelin’s death:
When he learned he'd be taking over the family business — which distributes European food products through the United States — he brought home cognac, fruits and chocolate to celebrate.
He had two or three shots of the alcohol between about 7 and 9 p.m. Oct. 29, along with two 16-ounce cans of Red Bull.
About 7 the next morning, his wife found him unresponsive on the bathroom floor, and saw vomit nearby. Emergency workers arrived, and he was pronounced dead.
The Pierce County Medical Examiner’s Office ruled the immediate cause of death was “aspiration of gastric contents,” and noted alcohol intoxication was a factor.
"Mr. Omelin had only 2-3 shots, which is not a large amount of alcohol to take in and certainly not enough to cause a healthy young man to vomit," attorney Efimova said about the cause of death.
"Mixing the drinks with a highly caffeinated beverage, such as Red Bull and Monster, however, can increase negative reaction."
Efimova also pointed to reports made to the federal Food and Drug Administration of consumers who experienced vomiting, nausea and other symptoms after consuming the beverages.
The lawsuit says Omelin drank in moderation, had no prior medical problems and didn't use illegal drugs.
It also noted that studies show a caffeine overdose can cause heart problems, nausea, vomiting, insomnia, convulsions and death — and that combining energy drinks and exercise can cause heart trouble.
The suit alleges the large quantities of caffeine Omelin consumed gave him insomnia, and that as a result he regularly used an exercise machine in the garage and usually showered afterward in the bathroom where his body was found.
Energy drinks also mask the effects of alcohol, and mixing the two leads people to drink more, the lawsuit suggests.
"Warnings or instructions were not provided with the products to warn against the use with alcohol, before/during/after physical exercises, and/or overconsumption," according to the suit.
It suggests warnings such as:
- "Do not use with alcohol and while exercising."
- "Do not exceed two drinks in a 24-hour period."
- "May cause cardiovascular problems, nausea, vomit, insomnia and death."
Anna Omelin said she wants consumers to think carefully about advertisements for food and beverages.
“It’s not always what it shows,” she said. “Learn more and discover for yourself what you are drinking and you are eating, before putting it in your body.”
She remembers her husband as a hard worker, who often did work for his job at home.
In addition to his wife, he is survived by a teenage stepson and two young children.
He liked flying remote control airplanes with the kids, and Anna Omelin thinks he secretly liked it even more than they did.
The couple’s youngest child was 3 weeks old when her father died.
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