Georgia has experienced a significant increase in COVID-19 cases, reaching more than 30,560 confirmed cases and 1,305 deaths as of noon May 6, 2020. Even so, conflicting messages, as aptly reported by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, are still being sent. The fact that government officials have sent mixed messages about the status of the state's stance on business reopenings has left some people confused as to the seriousness of the coronavirus. And when people don't take it seriously, mistakes happen. They may not follow through with safety procedures. As a result, illness can happen. Even death.
That's what happened in Illinois, and now, wrongful death lawsuits are being filed. One was recently filed in Illinois against Walmart. Here's what you should know about this case, especially if you have had to work during this coronavirus health crisis.
What Happened in the Walmart Worker Death Case Related to COVID-19?
Wando Evans worked at a Walmart store in Illinois for more than ten years. During the coronavirus health crisis, he continued to work at the store. Workers working alongside Evans exhibited symptoms of COVID-19 but, according to the complaint, which was filed on Monday, April 6, 2020, in the Circuit Court of Cook County, Illinois, and as reported by NPR and other news outlets, Walmart did nothing to prevent workers showing signs and symptoms of COVID-19 from working at the stores.
As Walmart employees suspected as being positive with the novel coronavirus kept working, they spread the disease. Wando Evans soon became ill, as did other co-workers. But unlike the majority of those infected with COVID-19, Wando's illness became fatal. At the age of 51, he died a mere two days after he was sent home from work. Another employee at the same Walmart allegedly contracted COVID-19, too, and died.
The complaint alleges many things, but namely:
- Walmart knew other employees were showing symptoms of COVID-19 but didn't take preventative measures recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.
- Walmart failed to warn employees that their co-workers displayed symptoms of COVID-19.
- Walmart failed to keep the store in a safe and healthy condition.
- Walmart displayed willful and wanton misconduct and reckless disregard.
Walmart, on the other hand and according to Law 360, states that it takes the coronavirus seriously:
In a statement to Law360 Monday, Walmart spokesman Randy Hargrove said that the company is "heartbroken" that two of its Evergreen Park store workers died from COVID-19 and that "we are mourning along with their families."
Hargrove also said that the Evergreen Park store "passed a third-party safety and environmental compliance assessment as well as a health department inspection" within the past week, and that Walmart "as an extra precaution ... brought in an outside company to further clean and sanitize all high-touch surfaces in the store." like carts, registers, bathrooms and areas of the store where food is located.
We live in extraordinary times now. But does that mean Walmart must have taken extraordinary means? What does the current coronavirus pandemic mean with regard to a retailer's duty to employees and customers?
What duties did/does Walmart owe workers during the Coronavirus health crisis?
Under any circumstances, stores owe their employees and customers a duty to provide a safe, clean, and healthy environment. Under the current national health crisis, however, this duty may be held to a higher degree.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) designated Walmart as a high-volume retailer. That designation means Walmart must take extra precautions to protect employees and customers from the spread of COVID-19 specifically. Guidance on COVID-19 provided by CDC and Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA) indicate that at a minimum, Walmart may have had a duty to:
- notify store workers that co-workers have COVID-19 symptoms
- provide protective equipment like masks and gloves
- implement social distancing policies
- send exposed employees home
- prevent suspected employees infected with COVID-19 from working until cleared by a healthcare professional.
In this case, as with other cases, much of it will come down to identifying Walmart's legal duties and what – if any – breaches of those duties were made to cause the employee's death. The facts will matter.
Was a loved one in Georgia diagnosed with COVID-19 after workplace exposure?
We live in unprecedented times. That's why more than ever, if you (or a loved one) have been injured (or died) – whether from COVID-19 or not – and you believe your employer may be liable for it, you should speak to an experienced wrongful death attorney in your area. If you live in the greater Atlanta, Georgia metro area, contact us today.