Estate of Walmart Employee Who Died From COVID-19 Sues for Wrongful Death

By | April 8, 2020

The family of a Walmart Inc. employee in Illinois who died after contracting COVID-19, the illness caused by the novel coronavirus, has filed a lawsuit accusing the retail giant of failing to adequately screen and protect workers.

The lawsuit filed in Illinois state court on Monday by the estate of Wando Evans says the Walmart store south of Chicago was not properly cleaned and employees were not given masks, gloves, antibacterial wipes or other protective equipment.

Evans died on March 25, and another employee at the same store died four days later from complications due to COVID-19, according to the complaint.

Allegations Against Walmart

The allegations against Walmart (as well as against JM2-Evergreen, the owner and manager of the shopping mall where the store is) include:

  • Failed to promote and enforced social distancing
  • Failed to provide protective equipment such as masks and gloves
  • Failed to warn Evans and other employees that various individuals at the store may have been infected
  • Ignored employees who said they were experiencing symptoms of COVID-19
  • Failed to follow OSHA and CDC guidelines
  • Failed to periodically inspect the store for condition and cleanliness to minimize risks to employees and others
  • Failed to provide employees with antibacterial soaps, wipes or other recommended cleaning agents
  • Failed to develop policies for prompt identification and isolation of sick people
  • Failed to implement engineering controls including air filters, and physical barriers such as plastic sneeze guards
  • Failed to halt store operations after learning various employees were experiencing COVID-19 symptoms
  • Failed to train employees in proper risk mitigation procedures
  • Hired employees via remote means without personally evaluating their health status

Walmart Response to the Lawsuit

“We are heartbroken at the passing of two associates at our Evergreen Park store and we are mourning along with their families. While neither associate had been at the store in more than a week, we took action to reinforce our cleaning and sanitizing measures, which include a deep-cleaning of key areas. Within the last week, the store passed a third-party safety and environmental compliance assessment as well as a health department inspection. As an extra precaution, we brought in an outside company 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

“Additionally, 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. 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.

We take this issue seriously and will respond with the court once we have been served with the complaint.”

Arkansas-based Walmart said it had conducted “a deep-cleaning of key areas” in the Illinois store, which has passed a health department inspection and a separate third-party review over the last week, according to a statement provided by a spokesman.

“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 company said.

The lawsuit filed by Evans’ estate accuses Walmart of negligence and wrongful death in violation of Illinois law.

Federal Guidelines

According to the complaint, Walmart did not follow guidelines issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the U.S. Department of Labor for maintaining safe workplaces, such as implementing social distancing.

Walmart also hired new workers in an expedited process without properly screening them for symptoms of COVID-19, Evans’ estate says.

Tony Kalogerakos, a lawyer for the estate, said in a statement the lawsuit was the first wrongful death case filed in Illinois on behalf of a person who has died from COVID-19.

“The Centers for Disease Control has designated Walmart stores as ‘high-volume retailers,” making them responsible for taking additional precautions to protect employees and customers from the spread of COVID-19,” he said.

(Reporting by Daniel Wiessner in Albany, New York)

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