The family of a woman who died earlier this month after she was locked in a freezer in a Louisiana Arby’s is suing the restaurant chain and the store’s franchise owners for negligence and wrongful death.
Local police confirmed to Insider’s Grace Mayer earlier this month that 63-year-old Nguyet Le was found dead in the freezer of an Arby’s in New Iberia, Louisiana. The lawsuit — filed Thursday by Le’s four children in the district court of Harris County, Texas, where the family lives — provides new details into the events that led to her death, including allegations a latch on the freezer door had knowingly been broken for months.
According to court documents, Le worked for Turbo Restaurants, a subsidiary of Sun Holdings, which operates hundreds of franchise locations of chains around the country including Arby’s, Burger King, and Applebee’s, among others.
She was a general manager of an Arby’s in Houston, and was given a temporary assignment in February to oversee the New Iberia location, some 230 miles away. Months before Le arrived, the employees at the New Iberia Arby’s reported to their district and regional managers that the latch on the walk-in freezer door had been broken since at least August 2022, the suit states.
Employees allegedly used a screwdriver to get the door open, and often propped the door open with a box so the freezer, kept at -10 degrees Fahrenheit or below per company policy, didn’t close all the way, according to court documents.
The morning of May 11, Le arrived before other employees, including her son, Nguyen, were set to open the restaurant at 10 a.m., the suit states. While going about the usual opening duties, Le became trapped in the freezer and unable to open the door, until Nguyen and other employees arrived to find she had died. Preliminary autopsy findings indicating she died of hypothermia.
According to the suit, the officer who investigated the scene and determined the death to be an accident found blood on the inside of the freezer door, which he believed meant she “panicked once locked inside and beat her hands bloody trying to escape or get someone’s attention.”
“Ultimately, she collapsed into a fetal position face down on the frozen floor,” the suit states.
Le’s children are seeking at least $1 million in damages, claiming Arby’s and the franchisees were negligent in failing to inspect and repair the broken freezer latch for at least nine months.
Paul Skrabanek, the attorney representing Le’s family, told Louisiana news station KLFY one of the reasons the family decided to sue is because Arby’s has allegedly stopped responding to his legal communications.
Arby’s did not immediately respond to Insider’s request for comment sent Sunday afternoon, but a previous statement on the incident is quoted on Skrabanek’s website.
“We are aware of the incident that took place at our franchised location in New Iberia, LA,” an Arby’s statement reads. “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 police department.”
Read the full lawsuit: