Insurance Companies Seek Declaratory Judgment Regarding Duty to Defend or Indemnify Beverage Manufacturer in Products Liability Lawsuits


800px-A_Man_Drinks_a_Four_Loko.jpgTwo insurance companies have filed suit in a federal court in Illinois, seeking a declaratory judgment that they are not obligated to defend or indemnify Phusion Products in a series of products liability and wrongful death lawsuits. Phusion manufactures the alcohol-based “energy drink” Four Loko, which has been the subject of multiple controversies and lawsuits in recent years. The current suit, Netherlands Insurance, et al v. Phusion Projects, Inc., et al, is at least the second suit declaratory judgment brought by The Netherlands Insurance Company and Indiana Insurance Company regarding Four Loko.

Phusion markets Four Loko in many areas as an “energy drink” that also contains alcohol. Like many popular energy drinks, it contains stimulants like caffeine and guarana. According to the Register Citizen, a 24-ounce can also contains an equivalent amount of alcohol as five shots of vodka. The beverage is popular among college students, but numerous cases of accidental overdose have reportedly resulted from excessive consumption.

A common allegation is that the effect of the stimulant ingredients, which may include a high level of caffeine, masks the effects of the alcohol, causing people to continue drinking past the point where they might have otherwise stopped. Recent lawsuits have alleged that consumption of the beverage proximately caused various injuries or deaths, including car accidents and shooting deaths. Several states, including Connecticut, have sought distributors’ cooperation in suspending shipments of the beverage, and Phusion has reportedly begun to sell non-caffeinated versions of the product in some states.