COVID-19 Update: How We Are Serving and Protecting Our Clients

Articles Tagged with #amazon

Industrial workers face many potential dangers every day at work. Conveyor belts are one such example. Conveyor belt accidents lead to roughly 9,000 injuries per year, along with dozens of fatalities, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Once workers become caught in a conveyor belt, they can suffer injuries like amputations, lacerations, burns, degloving injuries, bone fractures and death. In many circumstances, others may be to blame, whether totally or at least in part. These causes include a failure to perform the necessary maintenance on the plant’s machinery, defects in the machinery, and improper training. If you’ve been hurt in a conveyor belt accident, you should reach out without delay to an experienced Chicago work injury attorney to discover what legal options exist for you to receive the compensation you need.

Back in the fall, a very serious injury accident occurred at a packaging plant in Kane County. According to a kcchronicle.com report, the accident involved a temporary worker who became trapped in a conveyor belt assembly early one morning. The maintenance workers were able to take the conveyor belt apart and get the woman free before the fire department arrived. Despite being freed, the woman still faced serious medical issues. She was transported by helicopter to a nearby Level I trauma center with life-threatening injuries. (Level I is the highest level of trauma care.)

A later report indicated that, despite the extreme injuries, the woman survived. News reports did not divulge the results of the OSHA investigation, so it is not known exactly what caused this accident in Kane County.

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An article in the New York Times on April 22 noted that “outbreaks [of Covid-19] are mounting in processing plants and factories in Midwestern towns.” (Source)

We have been representing injured workers from these plants, factories and towns for over 50 years. We have seen ancient machines that were built without thought of the safety of the workers who operated those machines give way to more modern machines that may create an incrementally safer workplace but have automated away many of the jobs the grandparents and parents of today’s workers used to hold. We have seen jobs that were brutal and repetitive become modified to allow rotation so workers do not do exactly the same thing for their entire shift.

This is part of the cycle of manufacturing. When things are new they are engineered for profit and efficiency. After many workers suffer and many dollars are paid in claims the companies re engineer and try to come up with processes that are safer for union workers and less costly for the executives and insurance companies.

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to strain hospitals and stretch already thin staffing resources, Governor Pritzker has asked retired healthcare workers to aid in the fight against the Coronavirus. “We’re in the middle of a battle, and we need reinforcements,” Pritzker stated during a press conference. (source)

Among those answering this call are respiratory therapists. (source) Along with nurses, doctors, and other medical personnel, respiratory therapists are on the front line of this pandemic. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, chief among the responsibilities of respiratory therapists are performing diagnostic tests – such as measuring lung capacity – administering chest physiotherapy, nebulizer treatments, and aerosolized medications, performing intubations and connecting patients to ventilators.(source) In the words of one doctor, respiratory therapists “serve as the glue that brings everything together when doctors manage patients with respiratory illnesses.”(source) This expertise makes respiratory care practitioners especially essential during this current crisis because they are operating the ventilators that are keeping Coronavirus patients alive. Operating ventilators is an intensive process, requiring significant time in the proximity of critically ill patients, creating a higher risk of exposure.

For those retired therapists returning to the work force in the midst of this pandemic, it can be a particularly worrisome time. Many of those answering the call and returning to the front line after years of retirement may be at a higher risk because they may fall into one or more high risk categories. (source) Additionally, while the public has become well aware of the critical need for ventilators, many may not understand the intubation process required to connect a patient to one. This process involves exceptionally close contact with an ill patient, including lifting the patient’s chin or jaw to open their airway, using a laryngoscope to view a patient’s airway, inserting an endotracheal tube into their trachea, and taping the tube to their face. Such close contact can expose respiratory therapists and other medical personnel involved to patient’s airways, aerosolized droplets, condensate from tubing, and other risks associated with tending to critically ill patients.

We have rallied around our first responders who are protecting us against Covid-19 and who maintain order and protect our homes and lives. Many houses have homemade signs in their windows expressing solidarity with police, fire and healthcare workers. We join in that sentiment and are aware of the risks those workers take every day. However, they are not the only ones who are continuing to work and continuing to put their lives at risk.

There is a wide range of “essential workers” who continue to provide service, continue to risk their lives by making contact with other humans as we attempt to live normal lives in the wake of the pandemic. The Governor has designated the following workers as essential:

  •  Healthcare and Public Health Operations (includes businesses in the supply chain)

Grocery store and delivery workers have recently been thrown into the front lines in the battle against the most dangerous pandemic in 100 years. As business after business shuts down, food delivery has become one of the most important parts of the economy. Across the country, workers at places like Amazon, Walmart, Sam’s Club, Kroger, Domino’s, Costco, Uber Eats, Chipotle, and McDonalds have received much deserved praise and admiration for providing essential services to millions of people sheltered and isolated at home. While these employers are increasing wages and making promises to provide protective equipment, workers are still falling ill. What’s more, is that these employees are still getting hurt on the job and they still aren’t fully aware of their rights to compensation. While drivers involved in car accidents often have the ability to file two different claims, workers contracting Covid on the job are being left in the dark by their companies.

The family of a Chicago-area Walmart employee filed a lawsuit against the company for wrongful death alleging that Walmart failed to keep its employee safe from the Coronavirus. In fact, two Evergreen Park employees died just four days apart from Covid. Both employees were long-term Walmart associates with nine and fifteen years of dedicated service. While legal scholars highly doubt the chances of a civil lawsuit for a work-related injury succeeding, there is no doubt that these co-workers’ families are within their rights to file a workers’ compensation claims for death benefits. In Illinois, workers’ compensation death benefits are paid for 25 years or up to $500,000.00, whichever is greater. While many lawyers would file for workers’ compensation benefits in a situation like this, a civil action, if not dismissed in the early stages of the case, still runs the risk of Walmart claiming many different highly-factual defenses. For instance, Walmart is already disputing the family’s timeline of how the deaths of its employees took place. Bottom line, Walmart will claim that the employees were not present when they contracted the disease. Like with most legal cases, corporations and employers like Walmart will hire expert doctors who almost always give an opinion that the injury or illness simply was not caused by anything on the job or the incident itself.

The concern with these deaths around Chicago is the lack of personal protective equipment at Walmart. While OSHA and the CDC may look into the matter, companies are trying to get ahead of the disease by doing their own testing and providing more protective equipment. At a minimum, these deaths have prompted companies to disinfect and sanitize the work place. Amazon has recently been testing disinfectant fog to clean warehouses and distribution centers. Regardless of whether Amazon makes a difference in the health and safety of their employees, the company has plans to hire at least 100,000 additional workers. On the one hand, the extra workers will be necessary to help with the heavy increase in demand for the necessities of life being delivered to millions of homes. On the other hand, many workers suspect that Amazon is planning to use the additional workers to fill the vacant spots of sick and injured workers who not only get hurt in slip and fall incidents or get hit by forklifts, but also for those who contract Covid and are off work for at least two weeks. The spread of the disease at Amazon warehouses is so prevalent that more than fifty Amazon warehouses have reported Coronavirus cases. This comes as no surprise when a typical warehouse worker touches as many as two thousand items per day and many of them do this without personal protection.

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Before the recent pandemic, Amazon had come under fire for various workplace safety incidents, including one in Joliet, Illinois, involving allegations that the company delayed emergency medical treatment for a worker who suffered a heart attack and died in early 2017. In fact, a lawsuit claims that workers waited 25 minutes before calling 911. Since the fire station was only a half-mile away, it is apparent that the delay probably led to the worker’s death. What makes the allegations against Amazon even more concerning is that no AED (Automated External Defibrillator) was provided because the AED boxes did not actually have the devices inside of them. When the Joliet Fire Department arrived, the EMTs were slowed down by security and were forced to go through the much of the 1,500,000 square foot warehouse facility before reaching the injured worker, which caused him to lose precious time to save his life. Later in 2017, an Amazon forklift operator was crushed and killed at the Plainfield, Indiana fulfillment center. Regulators found out that Amazon did not provide their worker with any safety training. In fact, safety issues at Amazon were dismissed and covered up. It comes as no surprise that the state authorities issued $28,000.00 in fines. 6 other similar incidents took place between November 2018 and September 2019 at the company’s various locations across the U.S., making many people wonder if Amazon is willing to sacrifice human life for the sake of more profits.

In 2018, the Monee warehouse reported 235 injuries. The rate of injury was 2.3 times higher than the industry average. Many people in Will County are concerned about the level of safety at the five fulfillment centers located in their community, especially now with the threat of Covid-19 surrounding their loved ones as they work to supply area families with the necessities of life during this difficult time. Most people have questioned the safety of Amazon workers without masks in the local facilities, but that may change. In announcing daily temperature checks of workers and the supplying of masks, Dave Clark, Amazon’s senior vice president of worldwide operations, said via written statement”Whether it’s fulfilling orders in one of our fulfillment centers, delivering an order to a customer’s doorstep, or one of the many roles in between, I couldn’t be more proud of the critical role our teams are serving by enabling people to stay safe at home while receiving the products they need.” While these steps are certain to prevent further Amazon workers from contracting Coronavirus, time will tell if it is enough. Since Amazon already hired 80,000 of the 100,000 additional workers they need, it isn’t hard to imagine that Amazon sees its workers as easily replaceable until more drones and robots can be used to cut down on costs.

Based on Amazon’s conduct, Katz Friedman is investigating work injury cases on behalf of many distribution, warehouse, logistics, and fulfillment center workers in Monee, Joliet, Plainfield, Crest Hill, Romeoville, Waukegan, Aurora, Edwardsville, and Chicago, Illinois. We are also investigating Amazon related to its practices involving Amazon Flex delivery drivers who get hurt on the job but are unfairly denied workers compensation benefits. When making decisions regarding a work injury involving Amazon, it is wise to consult an attorney to protect your interests because Amazon has been prepared to fight its injured workers for a very long time. If you or someone you know works for Amazon and has suffered injury due their job at Amazon, the attorneys and staff at Katz Friedman are here to help with obtaining proper compensation.

The “gig economy” is where more and more people are finding work. This allows for greater flexibility for workers who do not want to be tied to one job or who have to balance earning a living with family obligations. However, this allows employers to avoid providing benefits such as health insurance and allows companies to deny that they are even an employer.

This has serious consequences when people get hurt. If you drive your own vehicle to deliver packages for Amazon Flex or to carry passengers for Uber or Lyft, they will deny that you are an employee when you get injured. They will refuse to pay the benefits to which you are entitled under the Workers’ Compensation Act. Benefits are paid to employees but not independent contractors. Companies will claim that gig workers are not employees but are independent contractors.

The Courts have found drivers for a pizzeria and for licensed taxi companies are employees. There are no decisions regarding drivers for gig economy companies such as Amazon, Uber or Lyft yet. Gig economy companies say that all workers are paid by 1099. This is only one factor in determining whether somebody is an employee.

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