As one of the first of its kind, a lawsuit has been filed against Amazon in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of New York alleging that Amazon breached its duty to protect the health and safety of employees due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The lawsuit is brought against Amazon by three employees and their family members.
In Palmer et al. v. Amazon.com Inc. et al., the plaintiffs claim that Amazon has failed to follow laws and health regulations in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic. One of the plaintiffs, Derrick Palmer, claims to have learned that his supervisor had the coronavirus, and despite immediately notifying the company, was required to continue working. Another plaintiff, Barbara Chandler, tested positive for COVID-19 in March and later observed that several of family members in her household became sick as well, including her cousin who later died on April 7th after experiencing COVID-19-like symptoms. The workers at the Amazon Staten Island fulfillment center say that Amazon has failed to keep the working conditions safe during the COVID-19 pandemic, which has already led to at least 44 confirmed cases including the death of one worker.
The lawsuit alleges that Amazon’s flawed contact tracing and notification policies – using surveillance footage to identify only those employees in close contact within a 24 hour period following notification of an infection – caused workers to contract the virus and bring it home to their families. The complaint alleges that Amazon does not interview the infected employee about other potential contacts, including those who carpool to work or congregate in areas such as restrooms where surveillance cameras are not present. The complaint alleges that Amazon instructs its employees to not tell others if infected. Amazon denies this, stating that it immediately notifies all employees on site, but keeps the infected person’s identity confidential out of respect for their privacy.
This new wave of liability is becoming a real threat to business owners and their insurers. As we discussed in a previous article related to COVID-19 in the workplace, employers must balance between a legal duty to warn those who might contract the virus and a duty to maintain employee medical privacy. With health and safety guidelines continually developing and the safety precautions varying between municipalities, states, and federal organizations, the COVID-19 pandemic will increase the potential liability risks and claims brought against businesses – not just by their employees, but by their family members as well.
CMBG3 Law is following all judicial and regulatory developments related to employer’s potential liability risks in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. Our team will continue to update you and your business on the litigation revolving around employers’ risks for civil liability. Please contact our firm for more information on how our team at CMBG3 Law can help your business make sense of health and safety guidelines and the recent precedent arising from these cases.
For more detailed information related to potential liability risks in light of the pandemic, please contact CMBG3 Law. The docket information for Palmer et al. v. Amazon.com Inc. et al can be found here.