In First Pennsylvania Lawsuit Of Its Kind, “Killer Kratom” Labeled Cause Of Death Of Beloved 25-Year-Old Human Services Counselor 


Philadelphia, PA (March 7, 2019) – In the first wrongful death lawsuit of its kind in Pennsylvania, the family of a 25-year-old Pennsylvania human services counselor is alleging that his death last June was caused by “killer Kratom”, the unregulated supplement whose manufacturer, SoCal Herbal Remedies, LLC,  provides no warning label or dosage instructions, according to the complaint filed against the Big Bear, California company in the Philadelphia County Court of Common Pleas (Estate of Caleb Sturgis v. SoCal Herbal Remedies, No. Jan 2019 No. 02001). Saltz, Mongeluzzi & Bendesky, P.C., (SMB) represents the plaintiff.

Attorney Robert J. Mongeluzzi, of  SMB, and his legal team announced the filing at a news conference this morning. “Kratom kills, and Kratom killed Caleb Sturgis, according to scientific medical testing and the Chester County Medical Examiner,” said Mr. Mongeluzzi. “If Caleb had not been seduced by the misleading and unproven claims of the Kratom industry, this incredible young man would be alive today. Those responsible for his death must now be held accountable, and the Sturgis family is determined to do all it can to prevent other deaths caused by Kratom.”

Caleb Sturgis, according to medical reports cited in the lawsuit, drank Kratom tea on the morning of June 27, 2018 before he drove to work as a human services counselor in the Philadelphia suburbs. SoCal made and packaged the tea, which is made from tropical Kratom tree leaves, and had no warnings or use instructions on its package, other than to keep away from children.

The Medical Examiner concluded that his death was the result of Acute Mitragynine Intoxication, directly related to the lethal concentration of Kratom (Mitragyna Speciosa) in his bloodstream. The only other “positive finding” reported was a level of caffeine consistent with his morning cup of coffee. The FDA contends that Kratom is an opioid and should be banned and all inventories removed from shelves until further research is conducted. As noted in the lawsuit, the agency considers all Kratom products potentially deadly, and classifies Caleb’s death among more than 40 in the U.S. linked to Kratom.

Scott Sturgis, Caleb’s father, said at the press conference, “We are speaking out so that people know that Kratom can and does kill.  Kratom needs to be banned until there is sufficient research proving its safety, efficacy and dosing.  Kratom killed our Caleb.  We will not stand silent until it can’t kill anyone else.” Along with his wife, Lori, and their three other children, they discussed how Kratom killed their son and beloved brother.

Tanya Sturgis, Caleb’s oldest sister, stated, “Our family lost Caleb but we are not going to lose our fight to see these opioids regulated, and full accountability on the part of those that traffic in Kratom.”

While Caleb’s death is, tragically, not the first in Pennsylvania linked to Kratom, the wrongful death lawsuit is the first in Pennsylvania that seeks to hold a Kratom manufacturer-marketer responsible. A jury trial is requested as part of the Complaint, and compensatory and punitive damages are sought.

“Our next steps will be to question the suppliers of the product that killed Caleb under oath to determine why they ignored the opinions of the FDA about the perils of this deadly product, and put it into the hands, and bloodstreams, of innocent consumers like Caleb Sturgis without any warnings regarding its potency, the safe amount that can be used, the frequency of use, or any of the other vital safety information every consumer needs to rely upon,” said Mr. Mongeluzzi. “We look forward to learning all we can through pre-trial discovery and then at a jury trial.” His co-counsel from SMB is attorney Samuel B. Dordick.

The FDA has warned “consumers not to use…Kratom” and “is concerned that Kratom…exposes users to the risks of addiction, abuse and dependence.” Kratom is banned in its countries of origin, Thailand and Malaysia, as well as countries such as Australia, Sweden, and Germany and U.S. states including Alabama, Arkansas, Indiana, Vermont and Wisconsin. There is no FDA-approved use of Kratom, and relevant testing by the FDA has revealed the presence of Salmonella and heavy metals such as lead and nickel in Kratom obtained from some Kratom suppliers. The FDA has stated that “compounds in Kratom make it so it isn’t just a plant—it’s an opioid” and the FDA is “confident in calling compounds found in Kratom, opioids.”

Anyone concerned about Kratom purchased online or at a retailer should immediately contact their local health department or Poison Control Hotline at 1-800-222-1222. In emergency cases, immediately call 9-1-1.



Robert J. Mongeluzzi / / 215.850.6571

Steph Rosenfeld / / 215.514.4101



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