Walmart was sued on Monday for wrongful death in Illinois after a store employee complained to management about novel Coronavirus-like symptoms before ultimately dying of COVID-19. The retailer, the lawsuit alleged, ignored the sick and now deceased man’s complaints for weeks.
Wando Evans died at the age of 51 on March 25, 2020. He worked for Walmart at the corporation’s Evergreen Park location for some 15 years before succumbing to Coronavirus-related complications.
“Evans, who worked as an overnight stock and maintenance associate at the store, first mentioned symptoms consistent with COVID-19 to store management two weeks ago but was ignored, family members assert,” according to a press release issued by attorney Tony Kalogerakos. “On March 23, 2020, Evans was sent home by store management; two days later he was found dead in his home.”
The lawsuit lodges seven separate wrongful death complaints against Walmart and the shopping center management company which controlled the particular Walmart Supercenter location where Evans and another store employee allegedly contracted the Coronavirus.
The specific allegations read like a macabre horror show of contagion:
[Walmart] [f]ailed to cleanse and sterilize the store in order to prevent infection of COVID-19…[f]ailed to provide [Evans] and other employees with person protective equipment such as masks, latex gloves and other devices designed to prevent the infection of COVID-19; [f]ailed to warn [Evans] and other employees that various individuals were experiencing symptoms at the store and may have been infected by COVID-19 which was present and active within the store; [and] [f]ailed to adequately address and otherwise ignored other employees at the store who communicated to management that they were experiencing signs and symptoms of COVID-19…[f]ailed to provide employees with antibacterial soaps, antibacterial wipes and other cleaning agents…
Operating on various theories of negligence, willful and wanton misconduct and reckless disregard, the 15-page complaint alleges that Walmart did not initially follow recommendations outlined by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) or the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
“The CDC 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,” Kalogerakos explained in the press release. “At a minimum, they were responsible for notifying store workers that a colleague had symptoms consistent with COVID-19, providing their employees personal protective equipment such as masks and latex gloves, implementing social distancing, and sending exposed employees’ home until cleared by medical professionals.”
But apparently none of that happened–until it was too late for Evans and 49-year-old Phillip Thomas as well.
“On and prior to the deaths of Wando Evans and Phillip Thomas, several other employees who worked at the store had exhibited signs and symptoms of COVID-19,” the lawsuit alleges. “On and prior to the deaths of Wando Evans and Phillip Thomas, management at the store knew that several employees and individuals at the store were exhibiting signs and symptoms of COVID-19.”
Four days after Evans died, Thomas was also dead.
Walmart said in a statement on Monday that it is “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,” the company continued. “We take this issue seriously and will respond with the court once we have been served with the complaint.”
Preventative measures were only taken by the companies after Evans’s and Thomas’s death, according to the lawsuit, which put both employees and the general public at risk.
“It’s so unfortunate they weren’t transparent with their own employees, let alone the community, and obviously it raises red flags when you have more than one death in one week at one store,” Kalogerakos told Law&Crime during a phone call. “Additional measures were taken only after both deaths occurred.”
The lawsuit is seeking damages in excess of $50,000 plus costs.
The law firm representing Evan’s family is also requesting an OSHA investigation into Walmart’s behavior before and after Evans’ death.
“The family contacted us only after they began receiving calls from [Evanss] coworkers saying it wasn’t until they learned about his death that they knew he had symptoms,” Kalogerakos added. “They urged the family to take action to prevent this from happening to someone else.”
[image via Joe Raedle/Getty Images]
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