The family of Caleb Sturgis has brought a claim of wrongful death in Chester County against SoCal Herbal Remedies, a manufacturer of herbal products. Sturgis apparently died after consuming their product known as Kratom. The Chester County Coroner believes that the herb is to blame for Sturgis' death. This is the second reported fatality associated with the product in the area recently. The official cause of death was classified as “acute mitragynine” intoxication.
Sturgis, who was 25-years-old and resided in West Chester, was in a single car crash on the Pennsylvania Turnpike at the time of his death. He is survived by his parents, Scott and Lori, and three siblings. Sturgis was deaf and had recently begun working at a facility that provides assistance, training, and other support for deaf people. His father stated that he was “excited to be getting on with his life” and that he seemed to be doing well at the time. The family's lawsuit seeks compensatory and punitive damages.
The product is derived from Mitragyna Speciosa, a plant that is native to Asia. The herb is believed to provide some relief for pain sufferers and those struggling with opioid addiction. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Drug Enforcement Agency have voiced concern, yet have not taken any action; therefore, it is legal and not regulated. An attorney for the family stated that “Kratom kills” and cited several sources that support his belief. The psychoactive substances are Mitragynine and (MG) and 7-hydroxymitragynine (7-HMG). The National Institute on Drug Abuse lists some of the other terms that Kratom is referred to as including:
The FDA reports that there have been at least “44 reported deaths” associated with Kratom. They stated that it appeared that these individuals were using Kratom in addition to other substances that are known to be potent. Some of these include benzodiazepines (i.e. Valium, Xanax), opioids, and cough suppressant.
Recent Laboratory Testing
A Chemical Research in Toxicology report discussed their experiments with mitragynine and 7-hydroxymitragynine on mice. The mice were injected with the chemicals and died at a rate that was similar to if it had been heroin. Lauren Smith, of the Scripps Research Institute, suggested that Kratom appeared to be quite potent. These findings are contrary to several past studies.
Wrongful Death in Pennsylvania
Common law allowed for injured individuals to pursue damages when injured as a result of someone's negligence. It did not have any provisions for recovery when the party was fatally injured. Pennsylvania's Code contains a wrongful death provision that allows the deceased's surviving family members to pursue damages. Those who most commonly bring actions of wrongful death are the deceased individual's spouse, children, or parents.
In this case, the plaintiff's claim seeks to pursue punitive damages. These rarely awarded damages are used to punish offenders for extreme conduct and serve as a deterrent. The defendant would have to willfully act in a manner that causes harm or acts with reckless indifference to justify imposing punitive damages.