Judge Denies Publix Motion to Dismiss Wrongful Death Claim
The family of a Publix employee is suing the supermarket for wrongful death after the deli worker died from COVID-19. The Miami Beach grocery store had tried to argue that the matter should be handled as a workers’ compensation claim, but a circuit court judge denied their motion to dismiss.
At Mase Mebane, our attorneys handle Coronavirus-related personal injury and wrongful death claims. If you or someone you know contracted the virus as the result of someone else’s negligence or wrongdoing, you might be entitled to compensation. Contact our office at (844) 627-3529 to determine whether you have a valid claim for damages.
Employer Liability for COVID-19
In the early months of the pandemic, government shutdowns required most non-essential businesses to shutter their doors. Grocery stores were quickly named an exception, being deemed essential and allowed to remain open. Despite calls for mask mandates and studies showing the importance of personal protective equipment (PPE) for essential workers, some employers refused to follow these guidelines.
According to a series of articles by the Miami Herald, the Gutierrez Family believes it was the mask policy at the Sunset Harbour Publix where Gerardo Gutierrez worked that ultimately led to his death. The family says the store failed to provide a safe environment for their employees. A Miami-Dade circuit court judge denied Publix’s motion to dismiss, allowing the civil lawsuit to move forward.
Facemasks Not Allowed for Food Prep Departments
It was not until March 31, 2020 that the store implemented a policy allowing employees the option to wear masks and gloves. As noted by the Miami Herald, the choice was not given to meat and seafood employees. Masks, according to a reply from the PublixHelps Twitter account, were not allowed in the food preparation departments “as wearing a facemask is not best practice for the prevention of foodborne illnesses.”
Eventually, the grocer changed course after multiple employees contracted the virus and workers filed an OSHA complaint at a North Florida store. By April 20, masks were mandated for all Publix employees. Tragically for Mr. Gutierrez, it was too late. The 70-year-old deli worker passed away from complications related to the Coronavirus on April 28.
A Devastating Timeline
- March 27 or 28, 2020 – A co-worker of Mr. Gutierrez comes to work with COVID-19 symptoms, including a cough. The employee stayed at work and was not sent home by her employer.
- March 31, 2020 – Publix issues a statement indicating that employees have the option to wear personal protective equipment except for deli, meat, and seafood department employees.
- April 2, 2020 – Mr. Gutierrez is sent home to self-quarantine after his co-worker receives a positive COVID-19 test.
- April 6, 2020 – Mr. Gutierrez develops symptoms, including feeling feverish and a cough.
- April 7, 2020 – Mr. Gutierrez receives a positive test result.
- April 10, 2020 – Mr. Gutierrez is hospitalized with the virus.
- April 20, 2020 – Publix finally mandates that all employees must wear face masks.
- April 28, 2020 – A priest is called to read Mr. Gutierrez’s last rites. His family and loved ones were unable to be by his side, having to say their goodbyes via Zoom.
Contact Mase Mebane for More Information
When grocery stores or other businesses refuse to provide employees with adequate personal prospective equipment, or worse, mandate that they should not follow health guidelines, they must be held accountable.
If you or a loved one became infected with COVID-19 after your employer refused to give you safety equipment, such as a face mask or gloves, contact our office for a free consultation. Our attorneys have tried hundreds of cases, recovering millions for our clients. Call (844) 627-3529 to get started today.