A 70-year-old Miami Beach man working for a Publix deli in the area died from COVID-19 complications in April. His surviving family is now suing the grocery chain for negligence, alleging that he had asked to wear a mask to protect him from the coronavirus but was denied by his employer. The grocer would not allow employees to wear masks until after the man was suffering the worst symptoms of the virus.
Based on information released alongside news of the lawsuit, the elderly Publix employee worked next to a sick coworker on March 27th and 28th. Publix would not allow him to wear a mask without a doctor’s note, though. About a month later, he would pass away from COVID-19 in his own home.
According to preliminary reports, the man’s surviving family is only suing for $30,000 in damages. It is not clear how the damages have been arranged.
Accusations of Publix’s Negligence
The lawsuit filed against Publix claims that it should have recognized the telltale symptoms exhibited by the ill employee who more than likely acted as the source of the elderly employee’s coronavirus exposure. Instead of sending him home or stopping him from clocking in, Publix allowed him to work for at least two days in the deli section of the grocery store. That same employee would later test positive for COVID-19 in early April.
The surviving family members are arguing that Publix failed to take the public health crisis seriously by allowing a sick employee to continue working closely with others and by denying workers the opportunity to wear masks freely. Publix has also been named in numerous complaints to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) for initially banning the use of protective masks and gloves in the store. Allegedly, the grocer thought that shoppers would get scared and leave the store if they saw employees wearing protective masks.
One Case Among Many
The Publix COVID-19 wrongful death claim in Miami Beach is a tragedy. It is even more concerning in considering that it is one such case among many being filed against companies across the country right now. Several major names like Walmart and Tyson Foods have been hit with wrongful death claims and workers’ compensation claims in the wake of the coronavirus spreading through their workplaces. Many of these cases originate from the early stages of the pandemic when corporations were still slow to go along with basic safety precautions like wearing masks and social distancing.
Many defense arguments have tried to say that the coronavirus’s spread throughout large workspaces was “inevitable” and, therefore, the corporations cannot be held liable for worker illnesses and deaths. Given that not all corporations and workspaces have had to deal with the deadly virus afflicting their workforces, this argument seems to be flawed at best. In a workers’ compensation claim, the employer must usually prove that they did all they could to prioritize the health of its employees, which it seems Publix arguably did not do in this case.
To learn more about this unfolding story, you can click here to view a full article from the Tampa Bay Times. (You may be required to log-in or subscribe.) To file a workers’ comp claim in Orlando or the surrounding area, including those related to COVID-19 exposure in the workplace, you can call (407) 967-5377 and speak with a member of Van Dingenen Law. Free consultations are available for inquiring clients.