Walmart appears to be the first major employer to be sued over the coronavirus-related death of an employee.
The family of Wando Evans, who worked in an Illinois Walmart Supercenter for more than 10 years and died at the end of March from complications due to the coronavirus, is placing the blame for his death on the mega retailer. Evans was sent home from work only two days before his death, according to the lawsuit filed in local Illinois court. The Evans family accused Walmart Inc. of negligence and generally taking a lax approach to the risks presented to employees by remaining open during the coronavirus pandemic in the U.S.
Walmart’s alleged failures to protect its employees from the coronavirus are numerous and include: not implementing social distancing practices in the store despite state and federal orders to do so; not providing employees with masks or latex gloves while working; not warning employees of colleagues who were “experiencing symptoms at the store and may have been infected by COVID-19”; not adequately addressing or ignoring employees who told management they were “experiencing signs and symptoms of COVID-19”; not following recommendations for businesses by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, like providing all employees with antibacterial soaps, wipes and cleaning agents and conducting “periodic inspections” of the cleanliness of the store.
The family also claims that Walmart should have closed the Illinois store because it knew of other employees experiencing symptoms of COVID-19, including one confirmed case of another worker, Phillip Thomas. Thomas also died at the end of March from complications due to the coronavirus. The store allegedly had no policy or procedure for prompt identification and isolation of sick people as the CDC has instructed businesses to implement.
Beyond these alleged failures, the Evans family said Walmart even continued hiring at the store, doing so “via telephone and other remote means” to expedite the hiring process, as it’s been in need of additional workers. This meant they did not evaluate any new hires for signs and symptoms of the coronavirus when they began working.
Walmart’s actions, or lack thereof, were the “direct and proximate cause” of Evans’ death, according to the family. They are suing for wrongful death and seeking unspecified damages.
A Walmart spokesman said Evans had not been at the store “in more than a week” before he died, and thereafter said the company “took action to reinforce our cleaning and sanitizing measures, which include a deep-cleaning of key areas.” The lawsuit claims that this did not happen while Evans was still working.
Additionally, over the last week or so since Evans died, the spokesman said the Walmart store he worked at “passed a third-party safety and environmental compliance assessment as well as a health department inspection.” The store also had an outside company come in to “further clean and sanitize all high-touch surfaces in the store, which included the decontamination of front entrances, carts, registers and bathrooms, as well as food areas including produce and meat.”
“We have taken steps across the country to protect our associates and customers, including additional cleaning measures, installing sneeze guards at registers, placing social distancing decals on the floors and limiting the number of customers in a store at a given time,” the spokesman added. “We’ll continue to take steps, such as screening associates, conducting temperature checks, and providing masks and gloves for associates that want to use them.”
As for the lawsuit, the spokesman said, “We take this issue seriously and will respond with the court once we have been served with the complaint.”
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