STORM LAKE, Iowa (KCAU) — A petition for a trial by jury has been filed by employees of Tyson Fresh Meats Inc., in Storm Lake, who passed away from complications with COVID-19.
According to court documents filed, Tyson Fresh Meats, Inc., is being sued by the estate and families of late employees of the company who died after contracting COVID while working for Tyson, claiming the company’s practices and actions of employees were “grossly negligent.”
The petitions were filed in early Buena Vista County in June before being transferred to federal court Tuesday. Each estate’s petition alleges that Tyson and its Senior Vice President of Health and Safety, Plant Manager, Plant Safety Manager, Superintendent, and Area Safety Manager are responsible for the lost lives of Juan Jauregui Samudio, 60, Ken Jones, 60, and Victor Barahona Rivera, 61.
Tyson and members of Tyson’s general management and safety management had been made aware of the Iowa Department of Public Health’s (IDPH) COVID-19 Guidance for Business as early as March 13, 2020, according to the petition.
The petition also alleges that there were outbreaks at other Tyson plants that were so severe the affected plants had to temporarily close, despite allegedly being aware of methods that would mitigate the spread of the virus such as social distancing, physical barriers between employees, face masks, etc.
The petition documents specify that the Storm Lake Tyson Plant and the defendants in the case allegedly allowed Samudio, Jones, and Rivera to work in conditions where they were apparently at risk of contracting COVID-19. The petition alleges the following:
- The decedents continually worked less than six feet from other employees.
- The decedents were not provided with proper personal protective equipment (PPE).
- The decedents didn’t have adequate physical barriers to separate them from other employees.
- Sanitizing and disinfecting practices were “inadequate” at all times.
- The safety personnel was provided inadequate training to reduce the spread of COVID-19.
- There was inadequate testing for COVID-19 and inadequate contact tracing.
- Inadequate screening of employees for symptoms of COVID-19.
- Failure to follow state and federal laws, rules, and regulations regarding COVID-19.
- Failure to slow down or otherwise alter production to slow or prevent the spread of COVID-19.
The petition further alleges that Tyson denied liability and workers’ compensation filed by families of the late employees.
Tyson and the individually named employees were stated to be negligent, and their actions resulted in pre-death physical and mental pain and suffering, as well as loss of function of the mind and body, according to the court documents. The petitions further allege that each employee and Tyson knew or should have known the “substantial” risk of harm to the late employees. The documents also stated that the conduct of the individual employees named in the petition showed a “willful disregard for the rights and safety” of the decedents, resulting in their death.
The petition states that the families are seeking damages relating to the loss of consortium, services, companionship, society, affection, and support of their lost family members.
Tyson Fresh Meats, Inc., formally denied all allegations in the petitions filed by each estate and family and requested on Tuesday that each case be moved to federal court. The joint notice filed by Tyson states that each death of their former employees was “tragic,” but the allegations by each plaintiff are “inaccurate and incorrect.”
The notice states that a federal court should resolve the case since the facility was operated under the guidance of federal efforts, saying it was designated “critical infrastructure” and worked with federal authorities to “secure the national food supply.
KCAU 9 reached out to Tyson about the court filings for comment, but the company declined to comment.