Free Consultation
No Fee Unless You Recover $
Call Now Text Us
Warnken, LLC Attorneys at Law, Attorneys & Lawyers, Pikesville, MD

Wrongful Death Lawsuits Against Amazon

As a record-setting tornado outbreak raced through the south and Midwest in December 2021, workers at an Amazon delivery warehouse in Edwardsville, Illinois, were busy processing shipments. The stretch between Thanksgiving and Christmas is the company’s peak season and the surge in product demand can mean increased staff performance quotas.

By bedtime on December 10th, the warehouse was barely standing. Part of it collapsed under the force of a category three tornado that tore off the roof and decimated the interior walls. Six workers were killed. As their friends, family, and surviving colleagues processed the tragedy, questions were raised: Why weren’t warehouse workers sent home early? Why were they there that day at all?

Wrongful Death Lawsuit Filed

A wrongful death lawsuit against Amazon and others was filed last week. The lawsuit alleges that Amazon knew or should have known that the facility was vulnerable to the severe weather event and should have taken measures to keep inhabitants of the fulfillment center safe.  The lawsuit alleges that the fulfillment center was dealing with peak holiday shopping season and the facility was still working moments before the tornado struck.  The lawsuit joins a host of other lawsuits against Amazon.

Importantly, in addition to Amazon, other construction related defendants were sued.  The allegations were that there was no basement to the facility and there was no spot to shelter in place.

Severe Weather Lawsuits

The lawsuit against Amazon says that the company:

  • “Failed to monitor the developing inclement weather”
  • “Failed to operate, maintain, and manage a warehouse in an area prone to tornados [(1)] that was equipped with a basement shelter or actual shelter; [and (2)] that was built to withstand tornado size gusts”
  • Failed to have a proper emergency action plan meeting OHSA requirements
  • Failed to evacuate all those present at the fulfillment center
  • Quite a few other allegations of careless and negligent actions/behavior

As global warming contributes to and causes a lot of severe weather, we’re likely to see more extreme weather events and more lawsuits against companies for being negligent in their response to, and preparation for, that weather.  Can Amazon be held liable for bad weather?  The complaint makes a credible case.

Not Employed by Amazon

Most of the time, if a worker gets injured or dies on the job, workers’ compensation is an exclusive remedy.  That means the injured worker (or their family in a wrongful death case) cannot sue the company.  They have to bring a workers’ comp claim.

The allegation here is that Amazon did not employ the poor worker; a third-party delivery company employed him.  This means Amazon could potentially be liable for their negligence, assuming the negligence can be proven.  However, the complaint actually alleges that Amazon had control over the worker, as an employer would.  I don’t know the laws in Illinois, but in Maryland, there would be a defense that Amazon was part of a dual employment scenario.

Even if Amazon has defenses related to workers’ compensation, my guess is that they’d simply rather eventually pay this wrongful death claim.  Why?  The amount of money Amazon likely saves by having their network of third-party contractors and delivery companies likely far outweighs what they need to pay in claims such as this.

Some Employees Reportedly Wanted to Leave – But Were Not Allowed To

Not in the complaint, but in previous news reports, were some troubling allegations.  The allegations, as of yet unproven, of Amazon’s conduct on the day of the warehouse collapse began to emerge even before the rubble was cleared. The girlfriend of a worker who died publicly shared text messages apparently sent by him stating that “Amazon won’t let us leave until after the storm blows over.” She maintains that had he left the warehouse facility when he sent her the texts, he would have had adequate time to make it home and survive the tornado. It’s possible, that if true, it was Amazon trying to look out for the workers. However, with insufficient shelter, this concept could have actually made it far less safe, even if the intentions were good.

This disturbing report aligns with claims from Amazon workers in neighboring warehouses who say they were pressured to work during previous tornado events. They also assert that Amazon did not provide them with emergency response training or tornado drills to prepare them for an extreme weather event – even though they work in a geographic region where tornados are a consistent hazard.

Amazon – at Least Initially – Didn’t Accept Any Responsibility

Representatives for Amazon at least initially refuted any claims that the company didn’t adequately protect its workers during the tornado outbreak. Its senior vice president stated in a press conference that “there was a tremendous effort that happened that night to keep everybody safe,” and an additional spokesperson maintains that “emergency response training is provided to new employees and that training is reinforced throughout the year.”