Monday, September 15, 2014

In-Flight Meal 'Lizard' Case Is Still Squirming

Courthouse News Service 
 Monday, September 15, 2014
Last Update: 4:40 PM PT

MANHATTAN (CN) - Whether she bit into a lizard, a feather or something else, a Puerto Rican beautician still disgusted by her in-flight meal 11 years ago thinks the jury that cleared American Airlines got it wrong.

In July 2003, Monserrate Luna and her son boarded a flight from New York to her native Puerto Rico to visit her family, and she ordered a chicken dinner that came with rice, peppers, peas and carrots.

Although Luna now insists her meal also included a lizard common in Puerto Rico, she originally complained of insects in her lawsuit. Her lawyer chalked up the discrepancy to his Spanish-speaking client's language barrier.

Luna's 5-year-old son said that it looked like some "animal," and a flight attendant testified that it was a feather.

Whatever it was drove her to the restroom to vomit "a little bit," Luna says.

The flight attendant offered to let Luna keep the meal as evidence, but Luna declined.

Luna then filed a federal complaint against American Airlines and LSG Sky Chefs in Manhattan, alleging physical, emotional and economic injuries. The airline, in turn, fingered its California-based frozen-meal provider Overhill Farms.

A federal magistrate whittled the claims down to a single count of negligent infliction of emotional distress, which a federal jury rejected in late 2010.

Still a resident of Puerto Rico, Luna traveled to Manhattan on Monday to watch her lawyer try to revive the case before a three-judge panel of the 2nd Circuit.

"She is still struggling for justice," Bhatia & Associates attorney Nadi Viswanathan said.

Viswanathan portrayed the case as a tale of "David against Goliath," pitting a "very simple woman" against an airline's sophisticated legal team. His "uninformed" client should be forgiven her failure to preserve the evidence, he said.

The jury should have heard all of his client's allegations, not only the negligence charge that went to trial, Viswanathan added.

Kenneth Gormley, representing American Airlines for Wilson Elser Moskowitz Edelman & Dicker, countered that Luna received a "full and fair opportunity to present any and all evidence with respect to all of her claims."

"Simply put, the jury did not believe the central element of the plaintiff's case, that there was something in her food," he said.

Judge Rosemary Pooler asked Gormley how the jury could have rejected that the meal was "unfit for human consumption" even though the flight attendant spotted the feather in it.

Gormley replied that Luna denied the flight attendant's account.

Judge Raymond Lohier chimed in: "They insisted on the narrow lizard?"

The panel, which included U.S. District Judge Valerie Caproni of New York's Southern District, reserved decision on the matter.

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