Florida Record

Wednesday, April 1, 2020

Nutrition company cleared of responsibility in man’s liver failure


By John Sammon | Apr 18, 2019

General court 09

WEST PALM BEACH – A South Florida online nutrition company was cleared of wrongdoing April 8 in the lawsuit launched by a man who alleged he suffered catastrophic liver damage after using the company’s green tea extract.  

Coverage of the trial in the Florida 15th Judicial Circuit Court was provided live courtesy of Courtroom View Network (CVN).

It took a jury four hours of deliberation to decide that Vitacost, a Kroger nutrition company based in Boca Raton, was blameless for the medical problems suffered by James McCants. 

McCants, 54 ,of North Dallas, was required to undergo a liver transplant in 2014 and said the green tea extract damaged his liver and kidneys.

Central to the nine-day trial was the plaintiff’s assertion that the company should have warned of the potential for liver problems from ingesting the green tea and that Vitacost had failed to warn and was therefore liable.

The website for Vitacost touted its “organic and gluten-free” products and a promise to “always make things right.” Supplement substances in the company’s product line include algae, bee pollen, amino acids, brewer’s yeast, caffeine and apple cider vinegar among others.

According to an MSN report, McCants, had suffered a heart attack and was taking green tea supplements because he heard it provided cardiac benefits and also aided in weight loss and the prevention of cancer. The supplements he was taking were described as a “mid-life health kick.”

McCants said he exercised regularly.

The MSN report said a potentially toxic ingredient in tea called “Epigallocatechin-3-gallate” or ECGC is a naturally occurring compound in anti-oxidants also called catechins. However, Herbert Bonkovsky, director of liver services for the Wake Forest University School of Medicine in North Carolina, said drinking modest amounts of green tea is safe.

“Usually, people are taking these green tea extracts trying to lose weight, so they're often not eating," Bonkovsky said in the MSN report. "We know from animal studies that fasted animals absorb a much higher percentage of the catechins than do fat animals. There may well be other factors of other drugs, other chemicals, use of alcohol that are also important as modifying factors."            

McCants’s attorney Clay Miller of Miller Weisbrod in Dallas asked for $6.2 million for his client including compensation for suffering and medical expenses. He said studies had linked the use of green tea extract with liver damage, but Vitacost employees had failed to heed the studies or provide information on the product or on the company’s website about the risks.

“Is it proper just to bury your head in the sand on this?” Miller was quoted in the MSN report criticizing Vitacost. “You’re not giving people full, informed consent about what they’re getting into, and you’re not giving them information that may be able to allow them to stop taking it if they show early signs of liver damage.”

However, defense attorneys led by Edward Nicklaus of Nicklaus & Associates in Coral Gables, argued there was no evidence the product caused McCants’ liver problems and that studies failed to show a correlation between green tea extract use and liver failure.

Nicklaus argued McCants took other supplements, some of which did have warnings associated with their use but did not consult a doctor before taking them.

“What you put in your body, ladies and gentlemen, you ought to get advice for, especially if you’re old enough to know better,” Nicklaus was quoted in the report. "That’s just common sense.”  

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15th Judicial Circuit of Florida