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Family: In-flight meal killed flier

By A. Pawlowski, CNN
updated 12:57 PM EST, Thu December 1, 2011
Othon Cortes collapsed on an American Airlines flight. He was pronounced dead after an emergency landing.
Othon Cortes collapsed on an American Airlines flight. He was pronounced dead after an emergency landing.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Family of Othon Cortes sues American Airlines and Sky Chefs
  • Cortes died after eating an in-flight meal contaminated with bacteria, family says
  • American Airlines declines to comment on the case or its allegations
  • Sky Chefs begins the process to dismiss the case; says it did not cater the flight in question

(CNN) -- As it deals with fallout from its bankruptcy announcement, American Airlines is also facing the wrath of a family who claim their loved one died after eating a meal served by the carrier.

The wife and daughter of the late Othon Cortes of Miami are suing the airline and Sky Chefs for more than $1 million, alleging he ate food contaminated with bacteria during a flight from Barcelona, Spain, to New York.

The incident happened on May 18 after Cortes consumed an in-flight meal that allegedly contained chicken, according to a lawsuit filed last week in the U.S. District Court in Miami.

As is typical for active lawsuits, American Airlines declined to comment about the complaint or its allegations, said Tim Smith, a spokesman for the carrier.

Meanwhile, LSG Sky Chefs -- a German company that produces airline meals for more than 300 airlines -- has begun the process to dismiss the case, said spokeswoman Josefine Corsten.

"Based upon the allegations in the complaint it is not possible that Sky Chefs is the responsible party because we did not cater the Barcelona flight in question," she said.

The lawsuit states that after the plane landed at John F. Kennedy International Airport and as Cortes and his wife waited for their next flight to Miami, Cortes felt "discomfort and pain that included sharp stomach cramps and sudden thirst and other clear outward manifestation of severe physical illness."

During the flight to Miami, Cortes experienced nausea and shortness of breath, and became unresponsive after a cardiac event, forcing the plane to make an emergency landing in Norfolk, Virginia, his wife and daughter said. He was pronounced dead on arrival.

Cortes' family alleges that his death was caused by poisoned food that American Airlines and Sky Chefs served on the international flight. It accuses the companies of "failing to properly maintain or prepare the food" and alleges the companies allowed the food to become contaminated with Clostridium perfringens bacteria.

Perfringens poisoning is one of the most commonly reported foodborne illnesses in the U.S., according to the FDA.

It is very rarely fatal, but a few deaths have been reported as a result of dehydration and other complications, the agency said.

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