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Overzealous Benihana Hibachi Chef at Center of $10 million
 Wrongful-death Suit; a Flying Shrimp Incident
Daily News, New York
Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News

Nov. 24, 2004 - Mix a piece of hot shrimp with an overzealous hibachi chef, and what do you get?

Believe it or not -- a $10 million wrongful-death suit.

The family of a Long Island furrier has been allowed to continue its suit against Benihana -- one of the more unusual claims you'll ever see.

Jerry Colaitis' bizarre death at age 47 came 10 months after he injured his neck on a family outing to the Munsey Park outlet of the famed Japanese steakhouse chain, noted for entertaining chefs who grill tableside.

"The chef who was assigned to their table starts tossing food," said lawyer Andre Ferenzo, who represents Colaitis' widow, Jacqueline.

"He tosses a piece of shrimp, and it hits one of the children. They tell him to stop, he doesn't. He does it a second time, and it strikes the brother-in-law."

Fearing for their safety, Ferenzo said, Colaitis who lived in Old Brookville, and his family asked the chef to stop throwing shrimp because it was hot.

The chef smiled, then tossed a third piece at Colaitis, who hurt his neck trying to avoid the flying crustacean, Ferenzo said.

That was in January 2001. By June, doctors were telling Colaitis he needed surgery to repair an injured vertebra or face possible paralysis.

After two operations, he was admitted to the hospital again on Nov. 20. Two days later, Colaitis, who owned a fur shop in Queens, was dead from a blood infection, respiratory failure and renal failure.

Ferenzo said Colaitis, who left behind two sons and four stepchildren, "was in the prime of his life" and in "fine physical condition" before the incident.

"It is literally undisputed that he required surgery as a result of the incident," Ferenzo said.

In court papers, Benihana's lawyer Andrew Kaufman asked a judge to dismiss the claim, saying Colaitis hurt himself trying to snare the shrimp in his mouth.

In a decision made public yesterday, Nassau County Supreme Court Justice Roy Mahon said Jacqueline Colaitis could proceed with her claim.

The judge said whether her husband died because of the shrimp incident or because of unrelated medical complications could be resolved only by a jury at trial.

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