December 15, 2020: Written by: Joseph G. Harraka, Jr., Esq. Co-Practice Leader, Trucking and Logistics
A federal district court COVID-19-related action entitled Watts v. Estes Express was recently filed by Plaintiff Jamaal Watts against his employer. That action just one of the many outstanding lawsuits filed here across the country by workers against their employers over a coronavirus- related dispute or claim can be seen as a potentially typical lawsuit that may be filed against trucking companies around the country in the coming weeks and months.
In his action, Mr. Watts, a dockworker at the Joliet, Illinois depot of LTL carrier Estes Express, alleges that, in late April, 2020, he learned that two of his co-workers had contracted COVID-19. Notwithstanding the fact that the two employees no longer worked on the premises, Mr. Watts was concerned about a possible infection of his work site. As a result, Mr. Watts asked his employer that he not be required to come to work “while his other co-workers who were exposed remained contagious,” according to his Complaint filed in United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois. “Watts’ supervisor at Estes denied that request and ordered the plaintiff to return to work the next day,” according to the Complaint filed in the action. Watts did go back to work as instructed but he requested to work just eight hours “to minimize risk from the first shift employees because of his exposure the day before to the infected employees.” After making that request, when Watts came to work the following day “he was told to leave the premises” by his employer. As a result of his employer’s alleged unlawful actions, Mr. Watts is seeking damages totaling $75,000, plus court costs. While that is not a great sum in and of itself, if you multiply that damages claim by hundreds of actions, the overall costs of litigation and any financial recoveries by plaintiff employees can add up to a potential significant exposure for the trucking industry.