Miguel Olaya, 60, says he hired the DeRiso Funeral Home in New York City to ship his wife's body to Guayaquil, Ecuador, on April 1, but the coffin wasn't at the airport when he went to meet it. He also claims the body was badly decomposed because it wasn't properly embalmed.
Christopher Robles, Olaya's lawyer, said the airline 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 someone at American 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, accuses the airline and funeral home of negligence and asks for unspecified damages.
Olaya's wife, Teresa, died of pelvic cancer at age 57 on March 28.