Family Sues Tyson

Family of Iowa Man Who Died From COVID-19 Points Blame at Tyson Foods

Todd Neeley
By  Todd Neeley , DTN Staff Reporter
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The family of a former employee of a Tyson Foods pork packing plant in Columbus Junction, Iowa, has sued the company following his death from COVID-19. (Photo courtesy USDA)

OMAHA (DTN) -- The family of an employee at a Tyson Foods pork packing plant in Columbus Junction, Iowa, is suing the company, alleging a lack of safety precautions at the plant caused his death from COVID-19.

Pedro Cano Rodriguez died on April 14, 2020, at the age of 51, just 12 days after he reportedly developed symptoms of the virus, according to a lawsuit filed in district court in Johnson County, Iowa.

"In the period of 14 days, and even longer, before he became symptomatic on April 2, 2020, Pedro was only exposed to other people at the Tyson Plant, and the two other residents of his house," said the lawsuit filed by his family.

"Pedro contracted the virus as a result of exposure at the Tyson Plant. By and throughout March of 2020, the fact of COVID-19 spreading by person-to-person contact, and precautions of social distancing and use of barriers and face masks to limit virus spread, were so widespread as to create certainty that defendants were aware of that information.

"Up to the time Pedro began to show symptoms of COVID-19, defendants were aware that then-known safety precautions critical to limiting the spread of COVID-19 were not being practiced at the Tyson plant."

Tyson closed the pork plant on April 6 after reporting at least 24 workers tested positive for the virus. The plant did not reopen until April 21. An outbreak of COVID-19 also occurred at Tyson's Waterloo, Iowa, plant.

The lawsuit said Rodriguez was hospitalized on April 10 and died four days later.

When contacted by DTN a Tyson spokesperson said the company would not comment on the particulars of the lawsuit.

"We're saddened by the loss of any Tyson team member and sympathize with their families," the spokesperson said.

"Our top priority is the health and safety of our workers and we've implemented a host of protective measures at our facilities that meet or exceed CDC and OSHA guidance for preventing the virus. Currently, less than one-half of one percent of our U.S. workforce has active COVID-19."

Tyson said it formed a virus taskforce in January and began educating employees about the risks.

The company said it relaxed its attendance policy and asked employees to stay home if they feel sick.

"We were one of the first companies to start taking team member temperatures and we began efforts to secure a supply of face masks before the CDC recommended using them," the spokesperson said.

"We've transformed our facilities with protective measures including symptom screenings, face masks, workstation dividers and social distance monitors."

The family contends in the lawsuit the company was aware of but did not take precautions to protect employees, including social distancing, "up to the time Pedro began to show symptoms."

The lawsuit said Rodriguez worked less than 6 feet from other workers, masks were not supplied to employees, physical barriers were not used, and other possible precautions were not taken.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued general guidance on preparing workplaces for the virus on March 9. Then on April 26, after Rodriguez had died, the agencies published guidelines specific to meat and poultry processing employees that included a diagram of how to configure meat-processing workstations, according to the lawsuit.

"Tyson's act of closing the Tyson plant, implementing the above-referenced changes, and then reopening the plant, is an admission by it and its management, including defendants, that the working conditions at the Tyson plant posed an unreasonable risk of COVID-19 transmission," the lawsuit said.

"It also serves as an admission that Tyson's management believed precautions put in place as described above were sufficiently effective at lessening the chance of COVID-19 exposure, as to make it reasonably safe to re-open, and that Tyson had the capability of implementing those recommended safety precautions. Defendants knew it was unsafe to require Pedro to work in advance of those safety precautions being implemented."

Todd Neeley can be reached at todd.neeley@dtn.com

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Todd Neeley