The family of a 15-year-old boy who reportedly died after drinking two cans of high-alcohol energy drink Four Loko has sued the Chicago-based company, saying company negligence led to his death.
John and Karla Rupp, from the suburbs of Washington D.C., claim their son John "Bo" Rupp consumed two cans of the beverage during a concert last September, the boy's mother told reporters Thursday. Concert staff reportedly contacted Bo's mother after noticing that he "appeared extremely intoxicated."
After acting "paranoid and disoriented" on the ride home with his mother, the family claims Bo took off running upon arrival at his suburban home. He was then fatally struck by a car after running into a busy road.
"We could hear the ambulance sirens from our home," Karla Rupp said, according to a news release. "My husband and I just knew the sirens were for Bo. It was a parent's worst nightmare come true.''
The family filed a wrongful death suit against Phusion Projects, the makers of Four Loko, in Cook County Circuit court Thursday, claiming the company "was careless and negligent in formulating a caffeinated, alcoholic beverage that desensitizes users to the symptoms of intoxication, and increases the potential for alcohol-related harm."
After multiple reports of blackouts and injuries linked to Four Loko, several college campuses banned the beverage in 2010. The FDA eventually forced Phusion to remove caffeine from the beverage, but the high alcohol content remains. One 23-ounce can contains nearly as much alcohol as a six-pack of beer, according to the lawsuit. Critics of the beverage have also accused the company of targeting underage drinkers with its fruit flavors.
"I hope other parents will talk to their children about this drink,'' Karla Rupp said in a statement. "We don't want any other family to go through the sheer terror of losing a child.''
One of the family's lawyers, Jeffrey Simon, said the teen would have vomited or passed out if he overindulged on almost any other alcoholic beverage.
"This was a boy who was raised by concerned parents, who had a stable home life and lots of friends," Simon said in a statement. "What killed him was not the type of alcohol that adults might serve at a party. Four Loko is so deliberately different — it's sweet and fruity and marketed directly at the underage crowd – that it is far more dangerous than other drinks. And the founders of Four Loko knew that from the beginning."
Phusion told the Chicago Sun-Times it plans to fight the lawsuit in court, and denies marketing to underage drinkers.