COVID-19 Wrongful Death Lawsuits Against Employers
In case you aren’t aware, here’s a little background. In April, Tyson Foods posted a whole-page ad in the New York Times warning Americans that the “supply chain was breaking”. This was because several meat packing factories were facing several COVID-19 cases and deaths. Their employees, who are required to work in close quarters to one another, were unable to stop the spread of the virus. This resulted in Tyson shutting down operations at several of its worst factories and everyone was predicting meat shortages for months to come.
President Trump, once he got hold of this information, ordered the meat processing factories back open using the Defense Production Act. However, the administration is also expected to sign off on Republican legislation that would bar personal injury and wrongful death lawsuits against private employers impacted by COVID-19.
However, one Texas family has already filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Tyson Foods for not doing enough to protect their employees.
Before we get into the lawsuit and the allegations, we need to discuss the regulatory structure that is being passed all over the country to protect businesses from COVID-19 lawsuits. While in places like New York, New Jersey, and Minnesota, the state has passed legislation protecting doctors and hospitals from medical malpractice lawsuits, there is no such legislation protecting other businesses. However, Sen. Mitch McConnell said that he would not sign off on any stimulus package that did not include COVID-19 immunity protections for employers.
Typically, employers are indemnified by workers’ compensation insurance. This means that employers who offer workers’ compensation insurance to employees are indemnified from lawsuits brought by employers or their families. If an employee dies on the job, the family is entitled to death benefits. The trade-off is that it doesn’t matter whose negligence caused the injury or death.
But what happens if an employer doesn’t carry workers’ compensation coverage? The employee would then be able to file a lawsuit against their employer in order to recover damages related to their injuries. What’s the catch? You must be able to prove that the employer was negligent. That’s something you wouldn’t have to do if you qualified under a workers’ compensation policy. That being said, personal injury payouts are generally larger than workers’ compensation payouts and wrongful death settlements are generally larger than death benefit payments.
Further, it remains unclear what liability Tyson Foods has after they’ve been ordered open by the federal government. As an example, let’s say that the company was ordered open, but the CDC did not provide any guidance on how to keep the workplace safe. One would assume that didn’t happen, but Tyson Foods could shift liability onto the government agency that ordered them open. A grieving family may be able to file a lawsuit based on the Federal Tort Claims Act, but who knows how successful that will be.
One solution may be for the state to take over the process of paying death benefits to the families of essential workers killed by the virus. Such legislation is being passed right now in New York.
Talk to a Houston Personal Injury Attorney
If you’ve been injured by someone else’s negligence, call the Houston personal injury attorneys at Livingston & Flowers today to schedule a free case evaluation.