On March 25, a 51-year-old man who worked at a suburban Chicago Walmart died from coronavirus. On April 6, his family filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the store, claiming that it had failed to warn the deceased and other employees that their co-workers had COVID-19 symptoms. (Incidentally, another employee died from coronavirus complications four days later.)
The lawsuit, which was filed in the Cook County Circuit Court, alleges that this Walmart location was not closed, even though the head office knew or should have known that some employees were infected. It also claimed that:
- Management did not prevent those with symptoms from coming in to work.
- New employees were hired over the phone and via other remote means, making it impossible to determine whether candidates had virus symptoms.
- Walmart did not promote and enforce social distancing, provide workers with personal protective equipment, or clean and sterilize the store.
Walmart responded to the lawsuit by expressing condolences to the family of the deceased and confirming that it was reinforcing its cleaning and disinfection measures as well as placing social distancing decals on the floors, placing sneeze guards at registers, limiting the number of customers allowed in the store at a time, screening employees for illness, and providing gloves and masks for those who wanted to use them.
New York employers and COVID-19
The coronavirus pandemic is unprecedented in modern times, which has raised questions about employer liability and what constitutes reasonable measures to keep employees safe.
The general duty clause of the Occupational Safety and Health Act requires employers to keep their workplaces free from recognized hazards that have caused or are likely to cause serious physical injury or death to employees. Those who don’t take steps to ensure that the workplace is not exposed to those who may have contracted COVID-19 could face liability under this clause.
At the moment, only businesses deemed essential are allowed to continue on-site operations in New York. (The March 22 Executive Order directed all non-essential businesses in the state to close their offices and utilize telecommuting or work from home procedures if possible.) As of April 9, essential businesses include:
- Hospitals, nursing homes, and similar healthcare services
- Necessary infrastructure support, such as buses, vehicles for hire, airports, and hotels.
- Essential retail such as grocery stores, farmer’s markets, pharmacies, and gas stations.
If someone you love is employed at one of these essential business locations and contracts coronavirus because the employer was negligent in carrying out safety precautions, then request an online or phone consultation with a New York wrongful death attorney. The novelty of coronavirus does not excuse substandard cleaning or social distancing measures, so let an attorney help you hold the employer accountable.
Jayson Lutzky is a Bronx, NY accident and personal injury attorney. If you have legal questions, then call his office at 718-329-9500 for a free consultation. He has over 36 years of experience and has helped many highly-satisfied clients over the years.