MARINA DEL REY, CA—A landmark lawsuit filed in California over a man’s death from COVID-19 places the onus directly on an employer for refusing to make reasonable workplace accommodations for someone with known underlying health problems.
Unlike many other employment death and injury lawsuits involving workplaces and coronavirus, which fall under the workers’ compensation exclusivity rule, V. James DeSimone Law determined that Michael Haywood requested reasonable accommodations and his bosses knew of his underlying health issues. He was a diabetic, had a respiratory condition, and was a two-time cancer survivor. Despite that, they required him to report to the office at the height of the pandemic where he was exposed to the virus and died in February 2021.
Among the causes of action, the DeSimone firm is suing Riverside County for wrongful death and the violation of the Fair Employment and Housing Act based on disability discrimination, the failure to provide reasonable accommodation, and more. The county is also being sued for negligence resulting in injury to Elizabeth Haywood, who survived her husband’s “take-home” COVID-19 but was left with long-term physical and psychological conditions.
This lawsuit points the way forward for other families who have lost loved ones to COVID-19 due to employers’ flouting of their federal and state obligations to provide a safe workplace. While some of these claims are subject to workers’ compensation, DeSimone said that it’s vitally important to first carefully review all the facts and evidence to determine whether a wrongful death or Fair Employment and Housing disability case can be filed in superior court.