Lawsuit: Continental Loses Dead Body

April 28, 2011
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McALLEN – Airlines misplace millions of passengers’ bags each year, causing frustration for travelers who may arrive at their destination – but without a change of underwear.

But has an airline ever lost a man’s body?

“There’s a fairly unfortunate track record with carrying live animals, but I’ve never heard anything like that with human remains,” said Robert Mann, an airline industry analyst based in Port Washington, N.Y. “That’s a matter that airlines take very seriously, so that’s very unusual.”

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Apparently not unheard of, however, according to a lawsuit filed recently in federal court.

Monterrey, N.L., resident Martha Elena Flores Cura claims Continental Airlines lost the remains of her late, common-law husband Humberto Rivera while transporting his casket from Atlanta to McAllen in August 2009.

Flores and her niece, Ludivina Rivera, filed the lawsuit April 13 in U.S. District Court in McAllen. Attempts to reach them for this story were unsuccessful.

“The family was obviously very upset,” said lawyer Javier Villarreal, who is representing Rivera and Flores in the case. “Not only do they have to deal with the loss of their (relative), but these guys were looking for the body to see what happened to it after it was delivered.”

Rivera claims she hired a man to pick up her uncle’s body at the McAllen-Miller International Airport and drive it to Monterrey for his funeral.

Humberto Rivera was scheduled to make his final trip home Aug. 21, 2009, according to the lawsuit. But the driver learned from the funeral home in Atlanta the flight had been changed to three days later.

The driver met with a Continental representative the day before the remains were set to land in McAllen, but he learned someone had already picked it up.

“Continental advised (the driver) that the body was missing and that it was not Continental’s problem,” according to the lawsuit.

The driver filed a report with McAllen police Aug. 24, 2009, according to the lawsuit. About 11 hours later, Humberto Rivera’s remains were found at a funeral home in Brownsville and returned to the airline.

Continental Airlines spokeswoman Mary Clarke said she could not comment on any pending litigation.

Villarreal would not put a dollar amount on how much Flores and Rivera are seeking from their lawsuit. A hearing in the case is set for June 8.

“You can imagine the toll that would be on a family where a loved one was supposed to be delivered,” Villarreal said. “It’s very disturbing.”

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