Tyson Foods Faces Lawsuit Over COVID Safety Negligence

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Tyson Foods Faces Lawsuit Over COVID Safety Negligence
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As the pandemic stretches on, employee COVID safety lawsuits are coming out of the woodwork. In a recent lawsuit against popular meat processor Tyson Foods, Inc., the estate of deceased employee Isidro Fernandez alleges that the company’s gross negligence in regard to worker safety is what led to employee illness, including Fernandez’s death due to coronavirus complications.

The official complaint alleges that Fernandez in addition to more than 1,000 other employees at Tyson’s Waterloo, Iowa facility contracted the virus.

The complaint alleges that, “Despite an uncontrolled COVID-19 outbreak, Tyson required its employees to work long hours in cramped conditions. Moreover, despite the danger of COVID-19, Tyson failed to provide appropriate personal protective equipment and failed to implement sufficient social distancing or safety measures to protect workers from the outbreak.” After Fernandez’s death in April of 2020, his son took over his estate and filed the complaint against Tyson.

In January of 2020, Tyson formed a coronavirus task force within their company after witnessing the effects of the virus on their operation in China.

A subsidiary of Tyson Foods is located in the Hubei province of China. The complaint alleges that Tyson management witnessed the effects of the virus firsthand and earlier than many companies located solely in the United States. However, despite this early awareness, Tyson supervisors particularly in the Waterloo, Iowa facility failed to follow basic safety standards and forced employees to violate social distancing guidelines set forth by the federal government. Allegedly, the company neither produced face masks for employees to wear, nor did they implement or enforce social distancing guidelines in the facility in question.

The complaint alleges that even Tyson management at the facility began avoiding the plant floor to avoid contracting the virus.

This would indicate that management in the Waterloo facility was fully aware of the risks posed to workers and themselves by the close quarters of those working on the plant floor. When management then canceled regularly scheduled safety meetings, the situation grew worse both for employees and presumably in regard to employer liability.

Perhaps most alarming, the plant manager of the facility allegedly organized a betting pool for supervisors to wager over how many employees would test positive.

The following outbreak in the Waterloo facility was severe by any standards. In mid-April 2020, close to two-dozen employees from the facility were admitted for treatment at the same emergency room. Not for the first time, the company ignored requests to temporarily close the plant, denying the existence of an outbreak in their facility. The plant manager allegedly incentivized employees to continue coming to work while symptomatic by offering $500 bonuses to employees who attended every shift for three months. Additionally, the plant manager allegedly started a winner-takes-all betting pool for other managers and supervising staff regarding how many employees were likely to contract COVID.

Tyson began lobbying for employer liability protections as early as March.

Even without attending to the plentiful allegations of gross negligence throughout the complaint, it is interesting to note Tyson began lobbying for increased employer liability protections in the Spring of 2020, possibly predicting like many businesses the wave of COVID injury lawsuits to come.

On behalf of his deceased father, the administrator of Isidro Fernandez’s estate is seeking damages including pre-death pain and suffering, loss of function, emotional distress, and medical expenses, in addition to loss of love and companionship for Fernandez’s wife and son. This lawsuit highlights the imperative necessity of businesses to implement and enforce effective safety protocols, and to hold upper management accountable for the safety of the employees within their facility.

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