A diabetic who said he suffered potentially catastrophic blood sugar swings before he realized that the "sugar free" Sprite he was drinking contained high levels of sugar filed suit Tuesday against Coca Cola Co. and the company that distributed the soft drink.
George Schwartz, who has taken insulin daily for his diabetes for most of his adult life, said he was drinking several glasses a day from an office beverage fountain labeled "Sprite, It's Sugar Free" when his blood sugar levels began escalating beyond control.
It wasn't until a co-worker learned from the distributor that the product actually contained sugar that Schwartz found the source of his medical problems, the Agoura Hills man claimed in his Los Angeles Superior Court suit.
Elliot Kushner, Schwartz's attorney, said a later laboratory analysis confirmed that the beverage contained high levels of fructose, a form of sugar. Schwartz's doctor has said the sugar intake has probably shortened his life expectancy and contributed to nerve problems in his leg, Kushner said.
Tony Tortorici, Coca Cola's vice president for public affairs, said Sprite does contain a form of sugar known as high fructose corn syrup, but is never labeled "sugar free."
Diet Sprite, which is sweetened with Nutra-Sweet in cans and bottles and a combination of Nutra-Sweet and saccharine in soda fountain form, was once called "Sugar Free Sprite," but has not borne that name for several years, Tortorici said. It has never contained any form of sugar, he said.
"In any and all materials coming from the Coca Cola Co. regarding Sprite or Diet Sprite or any of our products, the ingredients are clearly and accurately labeled, according to regulations," Tortorici said.
Kushner said the fountain leased to Schwartz's employer by Majordomo Inc. of Los Angeles, also a defendant in the suit, may have contained an old label for Sugar Free Sprite. But consumers should have been warned that the product was not sugar free, he said.
"One thing we do know is that it does create confusion in the mind of the user," he said. "A reasonable person would take that description, 'Sprite, It's Sugar Free,' to mean that it's safe to drink."
Spokesmen for the distributor could not be reached for comment.