Tyson Asks Court to Dismiss COVID-19 Death Lawsuit

Tyson Foods, Inc., Tyson Fresh Meats, Inc., and employees who are supervisors at Tyson Plants filed motions to dismiss a Northern District of Iowa complaint alleging that they are at fault for deaths of employees due to contracting COVID-19 during the coronavirus pandemic. 

The complaint was one of multiple legal actions that claimed that Tyson or its managerial employees caused employees to contract COVID-19, and, in some cases like the one alleged in the complaint, die as a result of the sickness, because of their policies. The plaintiffs included Hus Hari Buljic, who also filed as the administrator of Sedika Buljic’s estate; Honario Garcia, who also filed on behalf of Leno Garcia’s estate, and Arturo de Jesus Hernandez and Miguel Angel Hernandez as Co-Administrators of the Estate of Jose Luis Ayala, Jr. 

Tyson filed the initial motion to dismiss, the company purported that the plaintiffs’ claims were “barred by the Iowa Workers’ Compensation Act” (IWCA) and that it “fails to plausibly allege that Tyson caused the alleged injury.” Further, it said that if the allegations were sufficient they would still be preempted by federal laws. 

The company said in their brief, “the coronavirus pandemic has presented unprecedented challenges to governments, businesses, and organizations around the world. Tyson has responded to those challenges, working to meet or exceed federal workplace guidelines to mitigate risks and protect worker safety. Despite the tragedy of Ms. Buljic, Mr. Garcia, and Mr. Ayala’s deaths, this Court is simply the wrong forum to resolve Plaintiffs’ claims. Under the IWCA, workplace injury claims must be adjudicated by the Iowa Division of Workers’ Compensation.

The Motion to Dismiss filed by the individual defendants included: supervisors Tom Hart, Hamdija Beganovic, James Hook, Ramiz Muheljic, Gustavo Cabrera, Pum Piang, Alex Buss, Walter Cifuentes, Muwi Hlawnceu, Cody Brustkern, and Mark Smith; and executives John Tyson, Noel White, Dean Banks, Stephen Stouffer, Tom Brower, Mary Oleksiuk, and Elizabeth Croston. Their motion said they joined the motion filed by Tyson, in asking the court for the case to be dismissed. 

Tyson argued in its brief supporting the motion to dismiss that the plaintiffs could not claim, as they reportedly did to “circumvent” the IWCA, that a workplace injury was considered fraud. It also purported that the claims were “inadequately pleaded” by the plaintiffs, specifically regarding causation. 

The brief also said the plaintiffs did not take into account the Iowa COVID-19 Response and Back-to-Business Act and federal laws including the Tyson facilities’ “critical infrastructure” designation and the Federal Meat Inspection Act. 

The defendants are represented by Finley Law Firm, P.C. and Perkins Coie LLP. The plaintiffs were represented by Frerichs Law Office, the Spence Law Firm, and Rausch Law Firm.