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A trial in the case of a 47-year-old furrier who died 10 months after dining at Benihana, the popular Japanese steakhouse chain, opened last week in a New York court. Jerry Colaitis allegedly injured his neck while attempting to dodge a piece of hot shrimp playfully tossed at him by a table-side hibachi chef. His lawyer says the injury necessitated an operation and an apparent infection forced another procedure. Months later, Colaitis was dead of a blood-borne infection. “Benihana set in motion a chain of events,” attorney Andre Ferenzo told the jury. The Colaitis estate is seeking $10 million in damages from the restaurant. Defense counsel Charles Connick questioned whether Colaitis’ neck injury had even happened at the restaurant and said his death was really due to natural causes “absolutely unrelated to Benihana.” It is uncontested that on a January night in 2001, Colaitis joined his wife and several family members at the Benihana in Munsey Park, N.Y., to celebrate his birthday. Benihana chefs are known for slicing the tails off raw shrimp, flipping the tails in the air, then catching them in their hats. At Colaitis’ table, the chef was tossing pieces of hot, cooked shrimp at the assembled diners. The chef tossed a piece of shrimp toward Colaitis. It was in avoiding one of these “projectiles of heated food,” that Colaitis injured his neck, Ferenzo said. Six months later, Colaitis underwent spinal fusion surgery and a bone graft, with a sliver taken from a bone bank. Despite being on nearly a dozen different antibiotics over the next few months, Colaitis again spiked a fever and was admitted to the hospital, where he died.
Andrew Harris is a reporter at the New York Law Journal , an ALM publication. He can be contacted at [email protected].

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