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Pennsylvania Meatpacker Hit With Coronavirus-Related Wrongful Death Lawsuit

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The family of a Pennsylvania meatpacking plant worker who died after contracting COVID-19 has filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the JBS beef processing plant and several of its affiliate companies. The suit claims the man’s death was the result of negligence regarding the plant’s operating procedures throughout the COVID-19 epidemic.

According to the lawsuit, filed in Philadelphia on Thursday, Enock Benjamin, a union shop steward at the JBS beef processing plant located in Souderton, Pennsylvania, died of respiratory failure related to COVID-19 on April 3. The Associated Press has reported that the JBS beef processing plant is the largest facility of its kind on the east coast.

The lawsuit alleges the JBS plant furthered the spread of the coronavirus throughout the workplace by forcing employees to continue working in close proximity without recommended personal protective equipment. Such workplace conditions allegedly continued for weeks despite warnings from state and federal officials regarding the spread of the virus, as well as recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control regarding protocol for social distancing.

The lawsuit claims that the meatpacking plant failed to provide personal protective equipment for its employees, or implement a social distancing system that would ensure the company’s workers were stationed far enough apart from one another to prevent contagion of the virus. The plant reportedly houses over 1,000 employees each day.

The family’s complaint states that, “Enock Benjamin’s death was the predictable and preventable result of the JBS defendants’ decisions to ignore worker safety…The JBS defendants ignored federal guidance and put plant workers in the crosshairs of a global pandemic.”

Attorney Robert Mongeluzzi’s firm, Saltz Mongeluzzi & Bendesky PC, is representing the family. Mongeluzzi stated, “This lawsuit is to hold the accountable for cutting corners, and valuing profits over people.” Mongeluzzi added that the plant continued to operate with such negligence, “So, they could increase capacity, increase profits without caring about worker safety.”

Jeffrey Goodman, an attorney with who also represents the family, stated to Law360 that, “During this March timeframe, there were numerous workers that reported being sick at the plant and there was no direction whatsoever at the corporate level for what to do in those situations.”

Court documents allege, “JBS ignored guidance from the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration instructing employers to encourage sick workers to stay home and to provide personal protective equipment to keep workers safe while on the job.”

Additionally, the complaint states, “JBS was ultimately forced to close the plant at the end of March for cleaning after multiple workers ended up contracting the virus.” Claims of negligence, fraudulent misrepresentation regarding the safety of working conditions at the plant, and wrongful death are all included in the lawsuit.

With the wrongful death suit being a first-of-its-kind case in Pennsylvania pertaining to COVID-19, attorneys admit that proving Benjamin contracted the virus on the job will be difficult. Given that current laws in Pennsylvania have not been amended in any way that would specifically address the epidemic, such as California’s recent executive order signed by Governor Gavin Newsom which extends workers’ compensation benefits to any worker who contracts COVID-19, the burden of proof for the prosecution in this case will certainly be challenging.

Attorney Mongeluzzi did not confirm any financial figure that the family is seeking in terms of a settlement. The JBS meat processing plant has yet to provide a public statement regarding the wrongful death lawsuit.