American Sued over Injury in '03

Jul. 3--A Miami Beach woman has filed suit against American Airlines after an injury while boarding a flight, saying the carrier offered to pay her claim but strung her along until the statute of limitations had passed.

"I feel very sad, because it's a company that is very serious, to deceive a passenger," said Alice Diaz, who was hurt on an American flight to Madrid. "They don't have a right."

American spokeswoman Martha Pantin said the airline disagrees with the allegations in the lawsuit, filed Monday in Miami-Dade Circuit Court.

"We dealt with Ms. Diaz in good faith," Pantin said. "But we were unable to reach a settlement agreement, and the statute of limitations did expire."

Diaz, 69, said she suffered repeated damage to her left hand on Sept. 11, 2003, when an American attendant transferred her from one wheelchair to another in the jetway, almost dropping her, then haphazardly carried her to her seat on the wide-body jet.

PAINFUL MEMORY

The pain was "immense," and she was crying, said Diaz, who has been in a wheelchair for seven years, due to a bus accident. She said the pain in her hand lingers today, and she cannot fully move her fingers, make a fist, type or grip her walker.

In the air, Diaz said, an American flight attendant attended to her injury, and she was taken to the airport infirmary after she landed in Spain. She said she was told American would cover her medical expenses.

Diaz spent her 45-day vacation going to doctors, and staying in her hotel with her bandaged hand, under the care of family members, she said.

Upon her return to South Florida, she spent several weeks in rehabilitative therapy and visited more doctors. To date, Diaz, who lives in a modest mid-Miami Beach apartment with her husband, said she has spent several thousand dollars on medical and related expenses, and has not received any reimbursement from American.

Diaz said the airline's in-house claims representative, Yolanda Fernandez, had offered to pay her at least $15,000, but kept saying she was still missing certain doctors' receipts. Diaz had an attorney represent her early on, but she said Fernandez told her not to use an attorney, because they could work it out.

"Once a person has retained an attorney, we no longer speak with them directly, because they need to speak through their attorney," American's Pantin said.

TWO YEARS, TOO LATE

Finally, Diaz said the claims representative told her that because two years had passed, it was too late to be paid. Diaz said the claims agent told her "not to call again, not to bother her and not to contact her in any way."

Said Diaz's attorney Robert Hanreck: "Their unfair, deceptive and unconscionable trade practices, as alleged in the complaint, prejudiced Alice Diaz's ability to collect her money for medical fees and expenses, as they had promised her."

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