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Estate of Tyson worker who died of COVID-19 sues for negligence

By Pamela Wolf, J.D.

Tyson is not a subscriber under the Texas Workers’ Compensation Act, which means the company loses certain common-law defenses, according to the complaint.

The husband and children of a Tyson Foods worker who died after contracting COVID-19 is suing the meat processing giant alleging that its negligence and gross negligence proximately caused the employee’s injuries and death. Notably, Tyson is not a subscriber under the Texas Workers’ Compensation Act, which means that the company cannot resort to certain common-law defenses, according to the complaint.

After working long hours at the Tyson Beef Plant in Amarillo, Texas, the employee fell ill and was rushed to the hospital with difficulty breathing, the complaint states. She was purportedly admitted with COVID-19 symptoms and died about 13 days later, on May 11, 2020.

Rampant infection. The estate alleges that “at least 4,500 Tyson employees have contracted COVID-19, and at least 18 have died.” The employee had been required to continue working during the pandemic, without appropriate employer-provided personal protective equipment to protect her from the coronavirus, according to the complaint. Nor does Tyson provide employees with any paid sick leave.

Negligence and gross negligence. The estate asserts that the employee died as a proximate result of Tyson’s negligence and gross negligence because Tyson and/or its employees negligently failed to:

  • Provide a safe workplace;
  • Protect employees against coronavirus;
  • Hire competent co-employees;
  • Supervise its employees;
  • Properly train employees on safety protocols; and
  • Properly supervise employees on a regular basis and under pandemic conditions.

Not a workers’ comp subscriber. Tyson does not provide workers’ compensation insurance to its employees, the complaint states. The estate alleges that as a non-subscriber under the Texas Workers’ Compensation Act, and pursuant to Section 406.033 of the Texas Labor Code, Tyson has lost its common-law defenses of the employee’s contributory negligence, that the death was caused by the negligence of a fellow employee, or that the employee assumed the risk of the illness incident to her employment.

Punitive and exemplary damages. Among other things, the estate contends that Tyson was grossly negligent and acted with malice, conduct that was a proximate cause of the employee’s injuries and death. It also justifies the imposition of punitive and exemplary damages both as punishment and for Tyson’s callous disregard for the safety of individuals such as the employee, in addition to actual damages.

The lawsuit, Estate of Camha Thi Vu v. Tyson Foods, Inc., was filed in the Northern District of Texas; the case is No. 2:20-cv-00131-Z.