This is a tragic story, and it’s hard to know what exactly to make of this lawsuit.
Southwest flight attendant blames airline over husband’s death
Carol Madden is a 69-year-old Baltimore-based Southwest Airlines flight attendant who is suing her airline over her 73-year-old husband’s death, which came shortly after he tested positive for coronavirus.
In a wrongful death lawsuit filed in US District Court in Maryland, Madden is seeking over $3 million in damages, accusing the company of negligence.
In July 2020, Madden went to Baltimore International Airport to complete her recurrent flight attendant training, which is a one-day course. This is federally mandated training that all flight attendants need to complete each year.
Both her and her husband tested positive for coronavirus just days after the course. Her husband’s oxygen levels plummeted, and sadly he passed away a few weeks later in a hospital, with pneumonia listed as his cause of death.
Madden worked throughout the pandemic, and states that she “firmly believes [her] husband would still be here” if Southwest’s safety protocols were as stringent in the training center as onboard planes:
“They were cleaning the seats. They were cleaning the air vents. They were cleaning the seat belts. Every touchpoint was cleaned. They did not do that in my training last year. I love my airline, but they didn’t love me back.”
While masks were required at the training center, Madden claims that:
- Flight attendants and instructors weren’t screened for coronavirus symptoms prior to or during the daylong training, and weren’t asked about exposure to coronavirus
- The human-size dummy used for self-defense training, fire extinguishers, and megaphones, weren’t wiped down between uses
- Social distancing was limited, with flight attendants seated at tables that were four feet apart or less
- Another flight attendant at the recurrent training tested positive for coronavirus; however, Madden wasn’t informed of this directly by the airline, but rather found out later on through a Facebook post
Southwest files motion to dismiss lawsuit
Southwest has filed a motion to dismiss the case, expressing sympathy for Madden, but stating that blaming the airline for his death is “misplaced.” Southwest’s argument is that the airline has the duty to provide a “reasonably safe work environment” for employees, but that duty of care doesn’t extend to others in the household.
The airline also claims that there’s no way to know where she actually contracted coronavirus. According to the airline:
“The claims asserted in the complaint reflect an understandably emotional response to a devastating personal loss, but they are not actionable under the law.”
This is simply tragic…
My gosh, this story is absolutely tragic. Madden herself is a cancer survivor, and she had been married to her husband for 35 years. She only became a flight attendant at the age of 64 after having had several other careers, as this was her dream.
She said this career was only possible thanks to the support of her husband, who drove her to & from the airport, and who took care of the home, given that he was retired.
As far as the merit of the lawsuit goes, here’s my take, though let me of course note that I’m not a lawyer:
- While there are no doubt some frivolous lawsuits out there, this doesn’t seem like one of them; if Madden’s version of the story is true, then it sounds like Southwest should have taken more precautions to keep employees safe during training, and the airline should have also informed her that someone else at the event tested positive
- In general it’s surprising to me that we haven’t seen more stories of lawsuits over coronavirus-related death or illness, since employers do have the obligation to provide a safe work environment
- It seems like Southwest’s defense is essentially that Madden can’t prove that she caught coronavirus at the training center, and also that the company’s duty of care doesn’t extend to spouses
I’m curious to see what comes of this case, but I can only feel bad for Madden and wish her the best. This is heartbreaking, plain and simple, and I can’t imagine what she has gone through.
A Southwest Airlines flight attendant’s husband passed away after testing positive for coronavirus, and she’s now suing the airline. The flight attendant claims she got coronavirus at Southwest’s training center due to lax safety protocols, and then gave it to her husband. What a sad story…
To what extent do you think Southwest is responsible here?