Flying Shrimp Killed Man, Family Claims in Suit

A shrimp a hibachi chef tossed at a man eating at a Japanese steakhouse ultimately led to the diner's death, his family claims in a $10 million wrongful death lawsuit against the restaurant chain Benihana.

Jerry Colaitis wrenched his neck when he ducked to avoid the shrimp in the chain's Munsey Park restaurant, attorney Andre Ferenzo said in opening statements Wednesday.

Months after the January 2001 incident, the 43-year-old Long Island man died from complications caused by neck surgery he required afterward, the lawyer said.

Benihana lawyer Charles Connick said it was unlikely a chef who works for tips would toss food at customers after being asked not to, as Ferenzo claimed. Even if that happened, Connick added, the cause of Colaitis' death was an infection or neck injury unrelated to the shrimp.

Benihana chefs mix dining with entertainment as they grill Japanese food in front of patrons. Ferenzo said some of them have become more daring in recent years, but Connick said customers enjoy the experience.

"Some customers, especially dads and sons, want to catch the food," Connick said. "The evidence will show that it was part of the show."

Colaitis, of Old Brookville, underwent neck surgery in June 2001, but there were complications, and he had numbness in his arm, Ferenzo said. He died that November, a day after checking into a hospital with a 105-degree fever.