Walmart Worker Dies from COVID-19, Family is Suing for Wrongful Death

More info on suing for wrongful death by Dallas Wrongful Death Attorney, Tim O’Hare

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On March 25, 51-year-old Wando Evans, an overnight stock and maintenance worker at a Walmart store in the Chicago area died from complications of the coronavirus (COVID-19). Just four days later, 49-year-old Phillip Thomas also died after exhibiting symptoms of the disease.

Evans’ family has filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Walmart, alleging that Evans contracted the virus while working at the retail store in Evergreen Park, Illinois. Evans reportedly notified his employer that he was experiencing symptoms consistent with coronavirus and was sent home on March 23. He was sadly found deceased two days later. 

Details of the wrongful death lawsuit against Walmart

In the complaint, filed on April 6, Evans’ family is alleging “willful and wanton misconduct and reckless disregard.” The family claims Walmart failed to institute preventive procedures (such as distribution of gloves or enforcing appropriate distancing) to limit the spread of the virus and protect its employees. The family also alleges that the retailer failed to adequately respond when a worker notified leadership of symptoms, and that other employees were not warned and the store remained open, even after employees became sick.

Tony Kalogerakos, the family’s wrongful death attorney, noted to Forbes the family received calls from Evans’ coworkers saying they were not aware of his illness until they learned of his death and urged the family to take action against Walmart in an effort to prevent a similar situation from occurring again. 

In a statement, Walmart has said it had stepped up cleaning and sanitizing stores, and that the store in Evergreen Park has since passed “necessary inspections” by the health department as well as a third-party review. The big box retailer has also implemented safety measures nationwide, including checking workers’ temperatures, offering masks and gloves to workers and limiting how many shoppers are allowed inside the store at a given time.  

According to the wrongful death suit filed by the Evans family, Walmart did not follow guidelines issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the U.S. Department of Labor for maintaining safe workspaces. In an effort to meet demand placed on the stores since the COVID-19 pandemic began, Walmart has expedited the hiring of new employees, without properly screening them for symptoms of the disease, according to Evans’ estate. 

What is a wrongful death lawsuit?

A wrongful death lawsuit is a claim for negligence resulting in the death of an individual. While these are commonly associated with car wrecks, 18-wheeler accidents and job injuries, wrongful death lawsuits may also be filed in a number of other scenarios, including a death occurring from a defective product, medical malpractice, a property hazard or some other dangerous condition. 

If the individual’s death can be attributed to the negligence of another individual, corporation or entity, the victim’s surviving family members may be entitled to monetary damages. Laws applying to wrongful death cases vary from one state to the next in regards to who can file a wrongful death lawsuit and the statute of limitations on wrongful death cases. 

In Texas, the statute of limitations in wrongful death cases is two years in most circumstances, and only the victim’s spouse, children or parents are eligible to recover damages, with one exception. The executor or personal representative of the deceased’s estate may also pursue a wrongful death lawsuit in order to pass any compensation on to the victim’s heirs owed to the estate of the deceased.

What is the compensation in a wrongful death lawsuit?

Plaintiffs in a wrongful death lawsuit may be awarded three types of damages. Compensatory damages may be awarded for pain, suffering, mental anguish, loss of support and companionship and disfigurement. Economic damages may be awarded to cover medical and funeral expenses, lost wages and loss of future income. Punitive damages are intended to punish the defendant for gross negligence and may be awarded by a jury based on the defendant’s actions leading up to the death. 

While no amount of compensation can ever replace the tragic loss of a loved one, any monetary awards in a wrongful death lawsuit can help ease the financial burdens faced by the victim’s family. 

How can you win a wrongful death lawsuit?

It can be a difficult task to prove negligence that resulted in the death of an individual, one that should be left in the hands of an experienced wrongful death attorney. In order to win a wrongful death lawsuit, there are four elements that must exist:

  1. The death was caused by the conduct of the defendant;
  2. The defendant was negligent or reckless with the victim’s wellbeing;
  3. The defendant owed a duty to the victim; and 
  4. Damages have resulted from the death (this one is obvious if the other elements are met.)

In any wrongful death lawsuit, the burden of proof falls on the complainant to prove the victim’s death occurred as a result of negligence of another individual or entity. In this case, Mr. Evans’ estate faces an extraordinary uphill battle in an effort to prove first, that Mr. Evans contracted COVID-19 while working at Walmart; and second, that Mr. Evans contracted the virus (and subsequently passed away) as a result of negligence on the part of Walmart. 

If Mr. Evans’ estate is successful in this lawsuit, it is likely that we will see other similar lawsuits arise against employers, and it would not be a surprise to see legislatures across the country enact laws prohibiting lawsuits against employers and other entities involving individuals who contracted or died from COVID-19. 

We are certainly living in an unprecedented time and facing a crisis to which there are no easy answers. Americans (and people around the globe) are trying to stay safe and healthy, while maintaining their employment. Businesses are trying to stay afloat as the global economy suffers a tremendous blow. Any death is tragic and our sympathies go out to the thousands of families suffering the loss of a loved one as a result of this pandemic. 

If you have lost a loved one as the result of what you believe to be the negligence of another individual or entity, contact a wrongful death attorney at The Law Offices of Tim O’Hare today. We will guide you through your options, pursue a wrongful death claim if warranted and ensure you receive all due compensation for your loss.  

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