Family of Walmart Employee Who Died From Covid-19 Files Wrongful-Death Suit

CHICAGO (CN) — The family of an Illinois Walmart employee who died of complications from Covid-19 sued the company Monday in the state’s first wrongful death lawsuit related to the virus. 

Wando Evans, 51, was an employee of a Walmart Supercenter in suburban Evergreen Park, Illinois. He died on March 25. 

“He never made it to the hospital,” his brother Toney Evans’ attorney Tony Kalogerakos of Injury Lawyers of Illinois told Courthouse News.

After telling his supervisor about his symptoms on March 23 he was sent home from his overnight maintenance shift and was found dead in his apartment just two days later.

A Walmart store in Walpole, Mass. (AP Photo/Steven Senne)

Another employee of the same store, Phillip Thomas, 48, died due to virus complications on March 29. 

According to the complaint, the store’s employees were at a higher risk of infection due to its high volume of customers. 

Evans’ lawsuit also claims the Walmart store and the company that owns its shopping center — which is also named as a defendant in the suit — were not following any coronavirus guidelines from the Center for Disease Control or the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

The complaint alleges that the store was not cleaned and sanitized, social distancing was not enforced between employees or customers and employees were not provided with masks, gloves and other equipment that could have kept them safe.

Plus, “management at the store knew that several employees were exhibiting signs and symptoms of Covid-19.”

According to the complaint, Walmart “failed to cease operations of the store and to otherwise close the store when it knew or should have known that various employees and others present at the store were experiencing symptoms of Covid-19.”

“They never told anyone else on the floor,” after sending Evans home, Kalogerakos said.

The complaint says the store was hiring employees over the phone quickly to fill shifts, and didn’t bother to ensure those new employees were healthy or could have contracted Covid-19 before starting their jobs. 

“They were going on a hiring spree,” Kalogerakos said.

Walmart spokesman Randy Hargrove said the company was taking the issue seriously. 

“We are heartbroken at the passing of two associates at our Evergreen Park store and we are mourning along with their families. While neither associate had been at the store in more than a week, we took action to reinforce our cleaning and sanitizing measures, which include a deep-cleaning of key areas,” Hargrove said. 

“Within the last week, the store passed a third-party safety and environmental compliance assessment as well as a health department inspection,” he added. “As an extra precaution, we brought in an outside company to further clean and sanitize all high-touch surfaces in the store, which included the decontamination of front entrances, carts, registers and bathrooms, as well as food areas including produce and meat.”

Walmart also announced new safety precautions for all of its stores last week, including limiting the number of customers in stores at one time, closing for overnight cleanings, installing social distancing markers in aisles and providing gloves and masks to employees that want to use them.

“They only took additional measures after the public realized these deaths,” Kalogerakos said.

The mayor of Evergreen Park, Jim Sexton, has taken measures of his own, suspending the supercenter’s liquor license after he was brushed off when asking about its two deceased employees.

Sexton also asked Cook County to further investigate what happened at the store.

Kalagerakos said that Walmart has not responded to the Evans family’s call to it asking for help with his funeral expenses.  

After Evans’ 15 years working for the company “they haven’t reached out at all,” Kalagerakos said.

As of Monday, Illinois had 12,262 confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus, with more than 300 dead. Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker, a Democrat, has sharply criticized the Trump administration’s response to the outbreak in the U.S., while the state has found itself in a bidding war with other states to get much-needed masks, gloves and other personal protective equipment from China and other sources, plus ventilators to treat the most serious cases.

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