Beer is the age-old summer favorite drink for barbecues, bars, and trips to the beach. But recent summers have seen a fair share of critical injuries caused by exploding beer bottles and cans. A New York City bartender at The Frying Pan restaurant recently filed a negligence lawsuit against brewing giant Constellation Brands Inc., and others after he was left permanently blinded when an unopened Corona bottle exploded. This incident comes on the heels of several other beer product-related injuries, including recent reports of craft beer cans exploding. Although these may seem like straightforward product liability cases, the complexity of the beer fermentation process and the storage precautions consumers are expected to take beg the question of who is liable for these safety hazards.
Recent Corona Bottle Explosions Prompt Negligence Lawsuits
In July 2017, Gonzalo Luis-Morales, was working at the Pier 66 restaurant, The Frying Pan, when an unopened bottle of Corona spontaneously exploded as he placed it into an ice bucket. A piece of glass lodged into Luis-Morales’ eye causing him total vision loss in the affected eye, among other damages. Shortly after the accident, the restaurant stopped carrying the beer brand all together in support of the injured employee. Brewing giant Constellation Brands Inc., bottle manufacturer Owens-Illinois Inc., and distributor Manhattan Beer now all face negligence lawsuits for Luis-Morales’ injury.
The lawsuit alleges that Corona manufacturers skimp on safety precautions during the production process and lack adequate quality controls to ensure product safety. According to Draft Magazine, beer bottles tend to explode as a result of overcarbonation. If a beer is bottled before the fermentation process is complete, the resulting carbon dioxide has the potential to build up enough pressure to break glass and cause serious injuries. Attorney John Danzi claimed that other employees of The Frying Pan were also injured from exploding Corona bottles before Luis-Morales and that the incident represents an ongoing trend.
News of Luis-Morales’ injuries and lawsuit prompted a New York City construction worker, Lachtman Ramnanan, to announce his intention to sue Constellation Brands Inc. after suffering partial blindness from an exploding Corona bottle. Ramnanan required emergency surgery after he put it into an ice cooler and glass shot into his left eye. In spite of two surgical repairs of his eyeball, he has only regained 20% of his vision and may never work again. Michael McGrew, a representative with Corona brewer Constellation Brands Inc. says,“We take matters related to the safety, health and well-being of our consumers very seriously,” and confirmed that an internal investigation has been launched.
Although these lawsuits are in their early stages, an earlier negligence lawsuit against , Constellation Brands, Inc. of Victor, N.Y. and Richie’s II Pub in Hatboro may inform how these new suits are received by the courts.
A Pennsylvania plaintiff filed a $50,000 negligence lawsuit after sustaining permanent hand and arm injuries injuries at Richie’s II Pub in Hatboro. The defense filed an answer to the complaint, stating Constellation Brands, Inc. was not liable for marketing or manufacturing a beer bottle which broke and injured the plaintiff on the grounds that the “Plaintiff cannot establish that the product presented an unknowable and/or unacceptable danger to the average or ordinary consumer.”
Craft Breweries May Be Ripe For Lawsuits As Well
The craft beer industry is at its record largest, with 6,266 craft breweries across the country and more demand from consumers to develop the most innovative flavor varieties. Many craft brewers have added fruit into their beverages to appeal to a wider audience of consumers. But incorporating fruit into the beer fermentation process renders the end product potentially explosive.
Recently, Evil Twin and Hoof Hearted Brewing created a sour IPA made with pineapple, guanabana, vanilla, and milk sugar. Not long after its release, a Reddit thread began to warn drinkers about the IPA cans exploding. In early August, Verdant Brewing Company recalled several varieties of their beers after receiving reports of exploding cans. The company announced on its Facebook page that the beers in question had suffered from “a re-fermentation in pack” and released a statement saying, “We have our suspicions that this is due partly to the exceptionally warm weather conditions and the beer not being cold stored, but also the possibility of a diastaticus yeast infection causing re-fermentation in pack. We are holding current tests on all products with our yeast suppliers.”
The threat of refermentation comes when the sugar from fruit added late in the brewing process interacts with the yeast. The resulting CO2 as part of the fermentation process builds up pressure in the can and may result in an explosion. Unless the beer is made stable through the use of chemicals or pasteurization, there is a risk of explosion. Fruit beers that have fruit added post fermentation presents the highest risk of re-fermentation. Craft beer connoisseurs claim that breweries could alter their process and add fruit during fermentation, but that this would not yield the same taste result that customers are looking for in a fruity beer.
Although no lawsuits against craft breweries have been reported yet, craft beers have caused a number of injuries in line with those in the exploding Corona lawsuits and the breweries involved may face repercussions in the coming years.
Who Is Really Liable For These Explosions: Brewers Or Consumers?
While consumers are quick to blame a brewery for exploding beer, some experts in craft beer assert that both the brewery and the consumer are responsible for ensuring beer products do not explode.
In response to increased incidents of exploding beer bottles and cans, some breweries are encouraging consumers to treat these beers like perishable items. Magnify Brewing recently released a 4.5% ABV Gose called Trade Proof made with mango, cherries, and guava, and the release included a warning on social media saying “Please note that this beer contains significantly more fruit than we’ve ever put into a beer before. Unlike our fruited beers in the past, we added the fruit just prior to canning so this beer contains fermentable sugars. This allows us to get the most character out of the fruit, but requires responsibility once these cans get in your hands! It is imperative that these cans remain cold at all times! For real!”
According to Craft Beer Joe, the only way for the yeast in beer to become active is to heat up the can or bottle, meaning that consumers do have the potential to affect the safety of the product. Many breweries have sought legal counsel on proper labeling protocols and ways to effectively educate consumers on the risks of exposing the products to temperature-sensitive environments, and have deployed comprehensive warnings on digital and social media platforms.
There are also those experts who contend that brewers bear the full burden of ensuring consumer safety at all stages of the brewing process. Boulevard Brewing’s Jeremy Danner raised the issue on Twitter, saying, “I can’t believe it’s even a conversation. If a brewery knowingly packages beer that has the potential to explode, they clearly don’t give a damn about the consumer and I’m angry they exist.” He tweeted further: “If breweries aren’t equipped or willing to package beer that won’t explode, THEY SHOULDN’T PACKAGE IT. How on earth is this even a conversation?!” Ultimately, In the case of lawsuits concerning injuries secondary to exploding beers, it will be up to the courts to determine the extent of liability on the part of both the brewer and the consumer.