Miguel Olaya, 60, says he hired the DeRiso Funeral Home in Brooklyn to ship his wife's body to Guayaquil, Ecuador, on April 1, but the coffin was not aboard the plane when he went to meet it at the airport. He also claims the body was badly decomposed because it wasn't properly embalmed.
Christopher Robles, Olaya's lawyer, said the airline initially gave his client conflicting stories.
"First they didn't know where her body was. Then they said maybe it was in Miami and finally they said it was in Guatemala," the lawyer said Tuesday. "Instead of sending it on the flight to Guayaquil, American sent the body to Guatemala City."
The lawyer said Olaya could not collect his wife's remains until April 4. "The body was missing for four days," he said.
Funeral director Kathleen DeRiso said the shipping error was caused by someone at American who punched in the wrong airport code. She said they wrote GUA for Guatemala instead of GYE for Guayaquil.
"It was not our error," DeRiso said, adding that the body was properly embalmed and "there was no decomposition." She said it was the first time in her 18 years of dealing with American that such a mistake had happened.
American spokeswoman Jennifer Pemberton said her company was researching the situation but could not comment because of the pending litigation.
Olaya's lawsuit, filed last week in state Supreme Court in Brooklyn, accuses the airline and funeral home of negligence and asks unspecified damages.
Olaya's wife, Teresa, died of pelvic cancer at age 57 on March 28.