The family of a woman who died while locked in a freezer at an Arby’s is suing the restaurant and the company that owned the franchise location.
Nguyet Le, 63, was temporarily managing the Arby’s in New Iberia, Louisiana, where one of her children also worked. It was her son who found her body in the freezer on May 11, according to the family’s lawsuit.
“The investigating officer relayed that inside of the door of the freezer had been bloodied leading him to conclude Ms. Le panicked once locked inside and beat her hands bloody trying to escape or get someone’s attention,” the lawsuit reads. “Ultimately, she collapsed into a fetal position face down on the frozen floor. The preliminary autopsy findings were hypothermia as the cause of death.”
No foul play is suspected and the police captain said it “seems like an accident,” the family’s lawyer, Paul Skrabanek, said in a news release. Still, questions remain, and the coroner is working to determining the exact cause of death.
The fast food location is not owned by Arby’s corporate, but is operated by Turbo Restaurants, which is part of franchise management company Sun Holdings. The Le family is suing all three entities and Inspire Brands, the parent company of Arby’s.
The suit alleges a former employee said the walk-in freezer latch had been broken since at least August 2022 and that employees used a screwdriver to help open and close the door and a box of oil to prop it open. The company policy was to keep the freezer at least at -10 degrees, the former employee said.
The issues with the freezer were reported to a regional manager, who visited the location in August 2022 and saw the freezer, the former employee alleged.
Le worked at an Arby’s location in Texas but was asked by her supervisor to act as the general manager of the New Iberia location in February 2023. She was supposed to be in that temporary role for four weeks, but her stay was extended by two weeks.
The suit states the family is seeking damages for wrongful death, loss of consortium, past and future anguish, pain and suffering, loss of support and loss of love and affection.
The family is seeking a jury trial and monetary relief over $1 million in damages.
In a statement to CBS News, a spokesperson for Arby’s said: “We are aware of the tragic incident that took place at our franchised location in New Iberia, LA. The franchisee is cooperating fully with local authorities as they conduct their investigation. Due to this being an active investigation, we defer any further comment to the state police department.”
CBS News has reached out to Sun Holdings for further comment and is awaiting response.
A handful ofthe U.S., according to the Associated Press. In 2012, Jay Luther, a 47-year-old chef and co-owner of a cafe in Nashville, died from breathing in carbon dioxide vapors from the dry ice in a freezer he was stuck in. The freezer had no mechanism to open the door from the inside.
In 2017, the family of Carolyn Robinson Manghan, a 61-year-old kitchen worker who died after being stuck in a freezer for 13 hours, sued the Atlanta hotel where she worked. The suit alleged there were problems with the freezer at the Westin Peachtree Plaza hotel.
Inspections of the freezer after her death showed the door opened properly each time. But three weeks later, the exit button malfunctioned during another inspection. Two people were trapped and banged on the door to get help. The hotel was then fined more than $12,000 by the Occupational Health and Safety Administration, or OSHA.
UNITE HERE, the union Manghan and her coworkers belonged to, demanded emergency buttons be installed in freezers to help in the event someone is trapped. These devices already exist in most elevators, according to Lee Gray, an architectural historian at the University of North Carolina-Charlotte.
Heavy-duty industrial freezers often have no way out. Aside from the freezing temperatures, injuries or death can also occur if heavy supplies on freezer shelves fall, Skrabanek’s news release reads. These “well-known dangers” could be entirely prevented with proper upkeep, the lawyer argues.
Skrabanek says emergency release mechanisms and alarms should be installed to prevent people from being stuck inside these freezers and the freezers should be organized so heavy items can’t topple off shelves. He also says emergency supplies should be kept in freezers, should someone get stuck inside.
OSHA recommends people who enter such freezers wear warm clothes and nonslip shoes and that businesses ensure the floors of these freezers are not slippery. The administration says fellow employees should check the freezer frequently to ensure no one is inside and the business should provide a means to open the freezer from the inside.
Under OSHA guidelines, employees under 16 cannot work in these freezers.