Publix Can Be Sued for Worker’s COVID Death, Judge Says

In a previous blog entry, we reported that Publix was being sued by the family of a worker who died from COVID-19. The worker, Gerardo Gutierrez, was not allowed to wear a mask while working in the deli of the Miami Beach store, despite growing coronavirus concerns. He passed away in April from the deadly virus, marking one of the first recognized retail worker deaths from COVID-19 in the state.

Since that report, Publix has tried to slap down the pending lawsuit by claiming it must be handled purely from a workers’ compensation standpoint. In other words, Publix has argued that workers’ compensation death benefits should be used to compensate Gerardo’s surviving family members and effectively allow the company to sidestep any responsibility for his death.

However, in a positive decision for retail workers across Florida and the country, Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Carlos Lopez denied Publix’s bid and protected the pending lawsuit. As such, Publix has until February 25th, 2021 to respond to the lawsuit, either by admitting liability and entering settlement negotiations or denying liability and sending the case to courtroom litigation.

Why is the Publix COVID Case a Civil Lawsuit?

Workers’ compensation is meant to provide guaranteed damages to workers and their families when an accident or injury occurs on-the-job or due to typical working conditions. In exchange for a quick path to a recovery, workers’ comp claimants are usually barred from suing their employers for negligence and additional damages.

Although, in rare circumstances, a work-related injury or illness can validate a personal injury or wrongful death claim in addition to or instead of a workers’ compensation claim. Typically, an employer can only be sued if they intentionally hurt a worker or acted with such gross negligence that they should have reasonably known that their actions would end up hurting a worker. The latter is what is being argued in the COVID death lawsuit against Publix.

Legal representatives for Gerardo’s family have argued that he passed away not due to an accidental workplace injury, but rather due to the intentional negligence of Publix. The company had reportedly told employees that they could not wear a mask on-the-job because it might frighten shoppers and cause them to leave the store. If true, then the decision would clearly be one that places profits over the wellbeing of its workers, which would constitute gross negligence and justify the lawsuit.

Van Dingenen Law in Orlando is paying attention to statewide news stories about the coronavirus and its impact on workers in all industries. To learn more about the ongoing lawsuit against Publix, you can click here to view a full article from the Sun Sentinel, or you can visit our blog frequently for important updates. If you want our help with a workers’ comp claim or lawsuit of your own, don’t hesitate to contact our attorneys at any time to schedule a free and confidential consultation.

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