Wando Evans had worked for Walmart the past 15 years and continued to report to work as the retail giant was allowed to continue operations amidst a national lockdown. The 51-year-old died on March 25, 2020, with COVID-19 symptoms cited as one factor in his passing. His family is bringing a wrongful death lawsuit against Walmart in response.
Attorney Tony Kalogerakos filed the lawsuit in Illinois Cook County circuit court and alleges that Walmart failed to take basic safety measures to protect their employees. The suit charges Walmart with failing at the following preventive measures:
- To provide masks, latex gloves and antibacterial soaps and wipes to employees
- To clean and sanitize the store to prevent the spread of the coronavirus
- To promote and enforce social distancing guidelines, including limiting the number of customers inside the store.
Kalogerakos argues that Walmart’s designation by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) as a “high-volume retailer” makes them responsible for taking these precautions.
Another aspect of the suit is that Walmart failed to let Evans’ colleagues know he had contracted the virus. This is in spite of the fact Evans notified management as much as 2 weeks prior to his death that he had symptoms.
Not only did Walmart not release Evans from his duties until March 23 (2 days prior to death), but they did not tell anyone else on staff. The latter fact became even more pertinent 4 days later when 48-year-old Phillip Thomas, an employee of the same store, died of COVID-19 symptoms.
On March 31, Walmart unveiled a new list of safety measures and protocols for employees to follow. The new steps were necessary, although it’s possible that a jury might see them as a tacit admission of guilt.
There are 2 sides to every story though. In a statement released by Walmart, they claim to have taken “action to reinforce our cleaning and sanitizing measures, which include a deep-cleaning of key areas.” They further cite a third-party safety and compliance assessment along with a health department inspection, which gave the store passing marks within a week of Evans’ death.
If the case does come to trial, it may also be scrutinized as to whether Evans and Thomas actually died from COVID-19 or if they were simply exhibiting symptoms. The coroner’s office in Cook County cited “morbid obesity” as another contributing factor to Evans’ death.
Kalogerakos will continue to press forward though, with additional evidence regarding Walmart’s hiring procedures since the pandemic. The lawsuit says Walmart hires people by remote means (phone, video conference, etc.) without determining if they have COVID-19 symptoms. He is also requesting a formal investigation by the Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) into the retail giant’s practices.