The family of a Chicago-area Walmart employee who died from COVID-19 has filed a lawsuit against the retail giant, alleging that the company failed to take the precautions necessary to protect its employees during the coronavirus outbreak.
The law firm that filed the lawsuit on behalf of Wando Evans' estate identified it as the first known wrongful death lawsuit related to COVID-19 in Illinois.
When asked for comment on the suit, a spokesman for Walmart said they "take the issue seriously and will respond with the court once we have been served with the complaint," which was filed Monday in Cook County.
Evans, 51, had worked for 15 years as an overnight stock and maintenance associate at the Walmart Supercenter in Evergreen Park, located at 2500 W. 95th St., according to a statement from Injury Lawyers of Illinois, LLC.
The firm alleged that store management ignored Evans when he first mentioned his symptoms consistent with coronavirus before he was ultimately sent home from work on March 23. Two days later, his family said he was found dead at his home.
"I'm devastated because I know I won't get a chance to say goodbye to him," longtime friend Daryl Bell said in an interview last week. Bell said Evans was a religious man with "a heart of gold" who was engaged to be married.
A second employee who had worked at the same store for nine years, 48-year-old Phillip Thomas, died on March 29.
The lawsuit claims that prior to Evans' and Thomas' deaths, management was aware that other employees at the store had also exhibited symptoms of COVID-19 and failed to properly clean the store and promote social distancing guidelines, among other efforts to slow the spread of the illness.
The suit also alleges that Walmart did not warn staff that people in the store were experiencing COVID-19 symptoms, and that management did not give Evans or other employees any personal protective equipment like masks or gloves.
In accusing Walmart of failing to implement various health and safety measures, the suit claims Walmart violated the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines as well as regulations put forth by the U.S. Department of Labor's Occupational Safety and Health Administration.
The store addressed Evans' and Thomas' death in a statement last week, saying the company was "heartbroken" and "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 thorough deep-cleaning of key areas of the store," Walmart spokesman Payton McCormick said.
"Within the last week, the store passed a third-party safety and environmental compliance assessment as well as a health department inspection," McCormick continued.
"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 spokesman Randy Hargrove added in a statement Thursday.
"Additionally, we have taken steps across the country to protect our associates and customers, including additional cleaning measures, installing sneeze guards at registers, placing social distancing decals on the floors and limiting the number of customers in a store at a given time," Hargrove continued. "We’ll continue to take steps, such as screening associates, conducting temperature checks, and providing masks and gloves for associates that want to use them."
Evans' family's lawsuit alleges the company took those additional measures following his death.
The attorney representing Evans' family said the law firm has also requested an OSHA investigation into the store's actions, adding that the lawsuit was filed after the family received calls from coworkers alleging that they learned Evans had symptoms of COVID-19 only after his death.