Airline food blamed in death of Miami man

Airline food is notoriously unappetizing. But can it kill?

That's the claim in a suit recently filed by the wife and daughter of the late Othon Cortes against American Airlines and the contractor that prepared his inflight meal. The two plaintiffs allege that Cortes died after eating a meal on a transatlantic American flight. In their lawsuit against the airline and Sky Chefs--a German company subcontracted to prepare food on American Airlines flights--the Corteses allege that the meal served on Cortes' flight between Barcelona, Spain and New York was contaminated with bacteria.

The Cortes family's suit, filed in a Miami district court, accuses American and Sky Chefs of "failing to properly maintain or prepare the food" and alleges that the companies allowed the food to become contaminated with the Clostridium perfringens bacteria. CNN reports that the perfringens bacteria transmits one of the most commonly reported foodborne illnesses in the United States, but is rarely fatal. A few deaths are reported each year as a result of dehydration and other complications associated with food poisoning.

After his flight landed at John F. Kennedy International Airport, Cortes, 73, began to feel "discomfort and pain that included sharp stomach cramps and sudden thirst and other clear outward manifestation of severe physical illness," the suit alleges. Once he'd boarded his connecting flight to Miami, Cortes experienced nausea and shortness of breath and suffered a cardiac event that left him unresponsive. The plane made an emergency landing in Norfolk, Va., but Cortes was pronounced dead on arrival.

LSG Sky Chefs, the German company that makes airlines meals for more than 300 airlines, has petitioned to get the suit dismissed. "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," said spokeswoman Josefine Corsten.

An unusual part of the lawsuit alleges that American Airlines was at fault for allowing Cortes to board the second leg of his flight, since he was in a compromised state. As the Department of Transportation told MSNBC, it's far more common for aggrieved airline passengers to lodge complaints for the opposite reason:

"We're not aware of receiving any complaints regarding passengers whom the airlines should have denied boarding due to illness but who nevertheless were allowed to fly," DOT spokesman Bill Mosley told MSNBC. Instead, he said, the agency typically hears from passengers who are trying to board a plane, but are then prevented from doing so.

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