Jay Luther's Family Suing Cooler Company, Metro Nashville Police Over Luther's Death in Restaurant


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The mother and sisters of Jay Luther, who co-founded Germantown Café and Germantown Café East and oversaw the kitchens at both restaurants, have filed a lawsuit in connection to his death last summer, my City Paper colleague Pierce Greenberg reports.

As Bites reported last year, Luther was checking on food inside a cooler at Germantown East after a power outage. The door shut and locked him inside the cooler, which had been stocked with a quantity of dry ice to keep the food from spoiling.

The medical examiner later ruled that Luther died of suffocation due to carbon dioxide. (Dry ice dissipates into carbon dioxide gas, which displaces oxygen in confined spaces.)

The suit says, among other allegations, that Luther pressed a panic button inside the cooler but neither building security nor police ultimately checked the cooler.

Luther's death was a tremendous shock to the Nashville restaurant community. Luther and his partner Chris Lowry were well-known figures in fine dining in Nashville, and the cafes were considered pioneering businesses in their neighborhoods, first in Germantown, then in the Fifth and Main condo building in East Nashville. (See Kay West's remembrance of Luther here.) Germantown East never reopened. (The space was later taken over by Feast on Fifth, which had announced its closure last month but is apparently still operating with limited hours and menu according to its Facebook page.)

The negligence lawsuit was filed in Davidson County Circuit Court on June 13. Greenberg reports:

The suit claims that the building’s security providers, ADS Security and Signature Security Service, Southeast Cooler Corp, Continental Carbonic Products, and the Metro Nashville Police Department were negligent in events leading up to Luther’s death.

The incident stemmed from a power outage at the Fifth and Main mixed-use building where Germantown Cafe East was located. The lawsuit claims that Continental Carbonic Products recommended that the restaurant use 500 pounds of dry ice in the cooler to prevent the food from spoiling.

According to the suit, neither a material safety data sheet nor a handling guide warning of the dangers of dry ice was provided to the restaurant.

When the power was restored to the building on June 17, 2012, Luther went to check on the cooler. After he entered, the door slammed shut, locking him inside. The latch release didn’t work, according to both the lawsuit and police investigation of the incident.

Luther pressed a panic button inside the cooler and ADS alerted MNPD. According to MNPD, a security officer at the complex said that the electrical problems must have switched the alarm.

The lawsuit claims that MNPD and Signature Security acted negligently in failing to check the cooler.

The suit, filed by Luther’s mother Norma Luther and his sisters Debbie Ruf and Kim Bartel, asks for $10 million in damages from Continental Carbonic Products for supplying a “defective or unreasonably dangerous” product and not providing notice of the dangers.


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