Jacqueline Colaitis
Ed Betz  /  AP file
Jacqueline Colaitis walks through the hall of New York State Supreme Court in Mineola, N.Y., on Wednesday. Colaitis argued that her husband, Jerry Colaitis, was never the same after he wrenched his neck dodging a sizzling, flying shrimp at a Benihana restaurant.
updated 2/9/2006 3:33:08 PM ET 2006-02-09T20:33:08

A jury in suburban New York quickly rejected a woman’s claim that her late husband died from an injury he suffered while ducking a flying piece of shrimp at a Benihana steakhouse.

The family of Jerry Colaitis, 47, of Old Brookville, sought $10 million in damages from the Benihana chain, claiming it is directly responsible for his death in November 2001.

The suit, filed by Colaitis's widow, Jacqueline, claimed her husband wrenched his neck ducking a piece of shrimp tossed by a chef while attending a family birthday party on Jan. 27, 2001.

The family claimed that the unidentified chef tossed shrimp at party revelers three times — the last shot at Colaitis — and refused to stop even after their pleas.

In the months following the party, Colaitis was treated by several doctors for various ailments and in June 2001, he underwent surgery to relieve numbness in his arm. Five months after that, he checked into a hospital with a high fever and died.

His family said the fever was a complication of the surgery, which wouldn't have been necessary if not for the initial injury.

The jury took less than two hours to reject the lawsuit.

"This man was a rock," Colaitis family attorney Andre Ferenzo said in closing arguments Wednesday. "Benihana and only Benihana set in motion the forces ... that led to his death."

Ferenzo cited the testimony of Benihana chief chef Toro Hasegawa, who said that chefs throwing shrimp and other food at customers "had become common" following the release in late 1990s of a Jackie Chan movie. But Ferenzo noted that Hasegawa conceded he knew it was dangerous for chefs to toss food.

Ferenzo said there was no effort to stop this activity because “it was good for business.”

‘Is it conceivable?’
Benihana attorney Charles Connick asked the jurors to reject the notion that a chef who relies on tips would refuse customers' requests to stop tossing shrimp.

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"I scratch my head and I wonder, is it conceivable to you?" Connick asked.

Chefs at the restaurant routinely toss ingredients in the air as part of a theatrical, at-your-table presentation of the meal.

Connick said there was no record of the meal demonstration’s injuring anyone in the past, and no evidence that the chef had purposely tossed food at diners.

“I just don't think that it makes any sense,” Connick said

Because it was a civil case, state Supreme Court Judge Roy Mahon instructed the six-member jury (five men and a woman) that only five of the six needed to agree in order to reach a verdict.

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