Families and legal teams throughout the country are taking aim at employers with wrongful death lawsuits that are based on deaths caused by COVID-19 infections. Several nursing homes have been targeted, as well as Walmart, Princess Cruise Lines and now, Tyson Foods.
Background on the Tyson Foods Case
The family of a deceased Tyson Foods employee has filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the company after she fell at work and suffered a knee injury at Tyson’s Amarillo facility. She reportedly received first aid at the company clinic and was instructed to return to work. The family’s lawsuit alleges that given staffing shortages, she wasn’t permitted to go home and rest or seek other medical attention. After suffering difficulty breathing, she was admitted to a local hospital where she died from a COVID-19 infection on May 8, 2020. She is survived by her husband and four children.
Texas Workers’ Compensation Insurance Requirements
The general rule across the United States is that an employer must carry workers’ compensation insurance. Under those circumstances, a workers’ compensation claim is an injured employee’s sole and exclusive remedy for an on the job injury. Texas has no workers’ compensation insurance requirement for employers, so injured employees are permitted to file actual personal injury lawsuits for the damages that they suffer at work. A wrongful death action is a type of a personal injury lawsuit.
The Public Statements
In a press release, the family states that Tyson employees suffered COVID-19 infections that resulted in a minimum of 18 deaths. The family’s attorney claims that the rate of COVID-19 infections at Tyson’s Amarillo facility is “grossly disproportionate” as opposed to the nation’s general population. Tyson claims that it has “put in place a host of protective steps at our facilities that meet or exceed CDC and OSHA guidance for preventing COVID-19.” There is no indication yet of what those protective steps are or when they were implemented.
The Federal Inspection
Pursuant to the request of the request of the Texas Department of Health Services, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention inspected Tyson’s Amarillo facility on May 5, 2020. More than 4,400 people work at the site which consists of more than 1 million square feet. The inspection findings consisted of eight recommendations including entry screening, social distancing and simple hand washing and sanitation. According to the attorneys of the family, it remains unclear why such findings and recommendations were made in order to enhance employee and community safety during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Given the difficulty involved in tracing how a decedent acquired the COVID-19 virus, it appears as if at least some COVID-19 wrongful death lawsuits are unlikely to succeed. Nailing down when and how a decedent became infected will be a pivotal issue. Many families will be challenged in attempting to overcome their burden of proof. That doesn’t mean that some claimants won’t be able to do so.
Read more about this and follow their attorneys here: VB Attorneys Hired After Family Loses Loved One to COVID-19 as a Result of Tyson’s Negligence.