In what may be a first-of-its-kind attempt to bring the manufacturers of a drug to justice, the parents of Fayette teenager Chase Burnett have filed a wrongful death suit against the company and person they believe distributed the drug that killed their son.
David and Yvette Burnett filed a negligence suit against Peyton Palaiok, Omerta Labs, LLC, WG Distribution, LLC, and Lunar Labs, LLC. Palaiok, 25, is believed to be the man connected to the distribution of the drug commonly referred to as “K2” or “Spice” to the Peachtree City convenience store where it was purchased.
A McIntosh High School soccer player, Chase Corbitt Burnett, 16, was found drowned in his family’s hot tub after smoking ‘spice” or K-2. An open package of “Mojo Diamond Extreme 100X Potpourri” — a name synthetic pot is sold under — was found next to the hot tub where 16-year-old Chase Burnett drowned March 4.
The Burnetts were told by the Georgia Bureau of Investigation that Mojo Diamond contained AM-2201, “a synthetic marijuana product" that can cause severe injury, altered mental and emotional states, illness and death."
The complaint goes on to say that,
"While Mojo Diamond and other synthetic marijuana products are labeled as 'potpourri' and often have the words 'not for human consumption' on the package to avoid regulation and liability, there is no reason to add synthetic cannabinoid chemical compounds to potpourri other than to generate a 'high' from smoking or otherwise inhaling the smoke from burning the mixture of herbs and chemicals.
"Mojo Diamond is an inherently dangerous product when used for the purposes it is manufactured and sold.
"Mojo Diamond and other synthetic marijuana products do not come with any warnings about the dangers of smoking or otherwise inhaling the smoke from burning the product."
The suit goes on to note that “prior to the death of Chase Burnett, Lunar and the Palaio Defendants knew that synthetic
marijuana, including such products containing AM-2201, posed a dangerous risk to consumers...knew that the
primary if not sole use for the synthetic marijuana they manufactured and/or distributed was to "get high" and that many of the customers buying the product were minors.”
“Spice”, made of plant material and sprayed with chemicals that mimic THC, the active ingredient in marijuana, was outlawed after Gov. Nathan Deal signed Chase’s Law in March. After that distributors found a way around the legislation by changing the drug’s molecular structure and returning it to the marketplace.
In June, the Georgia State Board of Pharmacy issued an emergency ruling classifying those altered compounds as Schedule I substances. The Georgia Controlled Substances Act grants law enforcement the authority to seize the product, popularly known as K2 or Spice, from merchants, though it does not allow for arrests or criminal prosecution.
The Burnetts say the defendants violated the Controlled Substance Analogue Enforcement Act of 1986 and other federal laws, because synthetic marijuana is chemically similar to controlled substances and are seeking compensatory and punitive damages for negligence, strict liability and Georgia RICO violations.
“You can be liable in a civil suit for selling an inherently dangerous product and for failing to warn consumers of the risks of using your product. I am not sure what you mean by ”used illegally” but the product is clearly made and sold with only one intended use. Why else would you spray cannabinoid compounds on dried weeds?” said the family’s Atlanta-based attorney Kristofer R. Schleicher of Joyce Thrasher Kaiser & Liss, LLC.
Palaiok, through his attorney, is denying any connection to or knowledge of Mojo Extreme.
“I would not have expected the defendants to admit liability. The affidavit filed by the GBI in their application for a search warrant stated that the GBI recovered evidence from the company’s garbage that included the chemical AM-2201, the same chemical that killed Chase Burnett,” said Schleicher. “This was AFTER that chemical was designated a Schedule I Controlled substance by Chase’s Law. We have other evidence of Mr. Palaio trying to buy chemicals from China. While they deny that they have anything to do with synthetic marijuana, this evidence shows they are not telling the truth. We only have to convince a jury that it was more likely than not that the product was made or was distributed by the defendants.”
In a statement issued through Schleicher, the Burnetts said:
“The Burnetts are committed to redeeming this terrible tragedy by making sure that no other parent or family has to endure such a loss. They will do everything possible to keep synthetic drugs off the shelves of stores and out of the hands of minors. Everyone who has played a part in this and many other tragedies should be held responsible—the drug dealers who import deadly chemicals and spray them on herbs, the distributors who place them in convenience stores, the managers and owners of the stores who sell these drugs to minors, and the national chains and franchisors who until recently allowed these drugs to be sold in their franchises. It has been all about the money. It is time for it to be about our children.
“On August 24, 2012, the Burnetts filed suit against Peyton Palaio and his companies, Lunar Labs, Omerta Labs, and WG Distribution. As far as we know, this is the first lawsuit seeking damages from a manufacturer or distributor of synthetic marijuana. His business records were recently seized by the Georgia Bureau of Investigation and he is the target of a joint State/Federal investigation.
“The Burnett family is aware that drug dealers are already making new versions of synthetic marijuana to skirt Chase’s law and that the reconstituted product is already in stores. Holding manufacturers, convenience store owners, and other retailers accountable in civil litigation is another weapon against these irresponsible miscreants. The family is working with legislators and law enforcement to develop additional state and federal legislation that will stop the sale of dangerous synthetic marijuana. In the meantime, the most effective thing that the public and concerned parents can do is to make it clear to convenience store operators, owners and national franchisors that if they don’t keep these products out of their stores, we will make sure people stay out of those stores. The Burnetts are also in the process of setting up a foundation to educate parents and teenagers and to warn the public of the dangers of these products. Synthetic marijuana can kill you.”