A new state appeals court ruling says that a household member can sue a company if the company’s negligence brought a fatal case of COVID-19 into the household, and See's Candies allegedly did just that.
See’s Candies may have its headquarters in South San Francisco, but was originally founded in Los Angeles (a century ago!), and now has stores in 20 U.S. states. Moreover, it is currently owned by billionaire Warren Buffett and his multinational conglomerate Berkshire Hathaway. So if See’s Candies were somehow responsible for the death of a loved one, yes, they would make a tempting and sensible target to sue for damages.
And that is exactly what’s happening. Per a lawsuit, See’s Candies factory employee Matilda Ek “was working without appropriate and necessary social distancing on the packing line, using restrooms and break-rooms at times inches [or] only a few feet from other workers, some of whom were coughing [and] sneezing, and became infected along with other co-workers with COVID-19.” She contracted COVID while in that allegedly packed-like-sardines candy factory line. Then that same workplace-contracted COVID infected and killed her husband Martin Ek.
The family sued, and See’s Candies argued the company could not be held liable for an injury or illness that a non-employee suffered outside their workplace. But the Chronicle reports that the appeals court ruled in favor of the victim's family, and that lawsuit is now moving forward.
“When a person suffers a disabling or lethal injury, the harms they suffer from that injury necessarily extend beyond the injured person to those who love and/or depend on that person,” Justice Helen Bendix wrote in the 3-0 ruling. According to the Chronicle, “It was apparently the first decision by a California appellate court on an employer’s responsibility for coronavirus that a worker transmitted to family members.”
This ruling only gives the green light for the lawsuit to proceed, it does not render any kind of final ruling or settlement in the Ek family’s favor. So the lawsuit itself is still unresolved.
But it sets a precedent that worker’s compensation can extend to people who don’t even work for the company, if the company can indeed be proven negligent, when the illness comes in a world of new rules being written by a deadly infectious disease.
Image: @seescandies via Twitter