Legal Action Leveled at Four Loko

Beverage maker, bottler, distributor, retailer all named in suit

FRESNO, Calif. -- The family of Rod Fiorini, killed in a police shooting last year, is suing the makers of the Four Loko, reported the Fresno Bee. Brett and Pam Fiorini are seeking damages for the wrongful death of their son. The lawsuit was filed this week in Fresno County Superior Court by Fresno attorney Bill Schmidt.

The lawsuit alleges that Chicago-based Phusion Projects LLC, maker of Four Loko, created a dangerous drink causing Fiorini's strange and violent behavior that ultimately led to his death. Before it was reformulated in 2010, Four Loko contained a mix of caffeine and alcohol.

The lawsuit also names City Brewing Co., which bottles Four Loko, Fresno distributor Donaghy Sales and SSS Chevron, the convenience store where Fiorini bought Four Loko hours before he become "irritated, agitated and disoriented" and fired a shotgun in his backyard, according to case documents cited by the newspaper.

The Fresno County Coroner's Office said Fiorini had a blood-alcohol level of 0.22%--almost three times the legal limit. Authorities believe he drank at least two cans of Four Loko, according to the lawsuit. He bought beer as well as Four Loko at the Chevron store, the report said.

Four Loko spokesperson Caroline Friedman declined to comment specifically on the lawsuit, but told the Bee that the company would "defend all cases in the courts ... and we will do so vigorously."

The company told CSP Daily News, "In general, Phusion Projects can't comment on specific legal actions.  It is important to remember that because a complaint is filed, doesn't mean the allegations in it have merit."

A court date is set for March 2012, the report said.

Schmidt is being assisted by Florida-based attorney Don Van Dingenen. Van Dingenen has eight cases against Four Loko including the first lawsuit, which was brought by the family of a Florida State student who died after binging on Four Loko. Sophomore Jason Keirnan became so drunk and manic after drinking Four Loko that he shot himself in the head with a friend's gun, according to reports from the 2010 incident cited by the paper.

In November 2010, the U.S. Food & Drug Administration cracked down on Four Loko, threatening to ban the drink. In a warning letter, the FDA called the combination of stimulants, caffeine and alcohol unsafe and a public health threat.

(Click here for previous CSP Daily News coverage of Four Loko.)

Prior to its reformulation, a 23.5-ounce Four Loko contained the equivalent of 4.7 cans of beer and two cups of coffee. It also contained wormwood – a key ingredient in absinthe, a European liquor which is banned from the United States and reportedly can cause hallucinations, said the report.

Phusion Projects kept the drink on store shelves by removing the caffeine and some chemicals.

Four Loko faced more scrutiny from the feds last month. Following criticism from the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), Phusion Projects agreed to relabel and repackage the drink in resealable containers. Four Loko used to be sold in pop-top cans, which made it appear safe to drink as a single serving--although it holds nearly five beer's worth of alcohol, according to the FTC.

The new containers also must clearly state that the drink contains alcohol. Van Dingenen said some store clerks don't know Four Loko has alcohol and may not check customer IDs.