Southwest Airlines Flight Attendant Sues Airline Over Husband’s Death

Filed Under: Southwest

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.

Bottom line

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?

  1. Joe Biden’s original stimulus bill actually called for limits on liability for employers in this situation.

  2. Given the level of Covid denial, scamdemic language, less than careful behavior by at least a 1/4 of the population or more, and the general nature of the virus unless the situation is blatant I am not sure how you adequate assign liability. It is not like they forced her to fly without a mask or took no precautions. This is the first time since the flu of 1918 that we have had to take widespread precautionary measures like this and given the evolving nature of things it is hard to set a level of expectation. It will be interesting to see how this plays out. I can only assume that a number of these lawsuits will be either consolidated or end up in Federal court with interstate commerce precedents being set.

  3. Contact tracing and causality will be tough to prove for the plaintiff.
    Plus, advanced age and pre-existing conditions vs pure-Covid will be argued by the defense.
    Losing a spouse is always tragic, but I’d say Southwest’s culpability is going to be very questionable here.

  4. The points about not screening for the virus before or during the training, in addition to the social distancing concerns, are quite valid. Not wiping down surfaces between uses is basically a moot point now given the research done since then about how covid spreads. Still, seems like she might have a decent case. Having no legal or disease expertise, I’d still advise not to use the touch point cleaning argument! It’s the weakest of the bunch.

  5. Tragic as it is , she has to provide evidence where she contracted it Why $3million. Loss of potential future earnings at his age ?

  6. Some slimy attorney is twisting the knife in this poor woman’s heart in hopes of scoring 30% of a settlement.

  7. if her story is true, then she and her hubby wouldn’t be only two contracted the virus. What about rest of training crews?

  8. @dan it doesn’t matter if she passed medical checks , can open /close the doors and perform all the other procedures. There are many 80 year olds who are fitter than 20 year olds.

  9. There is no way this lawsuit goes forward. Otherwise, every single person in America could sue anyone else any time they got sick and claim they got an illness or whatever from them. If I get melanoma, I’m gonna sue the Andaz Mayakoba, cuz they didn’t provide me free sunscreen like other resorts do, and they didn’t warn me that the sun was really bright and could lead to skin cancer. If I have a heart attack, I’m sueing every place I’ve ever eaten, and every supermarket I’ve ever bought food in, and every farm that made the food, cuz they didn’t provide me with statins to prevent my elevated cholesterol from eating their food. This is as frivolous as a lawsuit could possibly be. My guess is this is an ambulance chasing attorney trying to score a quick buck by angling for a settlement, and preying on this poor woman’s grief. If I’m Southwest, I do not settle, cuz this will be all of five minutes in court before the judge throws it out.

  10. “Both her and her husband tested positive for coronavirus just days after the course”

    That’s all a bit vague time wise. There must be a specific time and date when the test was done and the result reported.

    As to the training room did she raise her concerns then and there?

    She could have wiped the dummy / fire extinguisher etc down herself – before and after it was her turn to use it if she felt it wasn’t clean enough.

  11. Ben, you should talk about what happened at CDG. Last year, an airport contractor sent a written memo to its employees banning them from taking sick leave, and forcing them to come to work if they had Coronavirus symtoms, as long as they did not have a positive test result yet.
    This means sick employees who were awaiting their test results had to come to work, or use vacation days.

  12. Yesterday yahoo news carried this story in more detail. Lawyer claims that a flight attendant who sat at this plaintiff’s table developed the virus but Southwest did NOT warn any certification participants. They kept very quiet. Should they all gone into quarantineas soon as first person became sick? Should the CDC been notified? In the meantime Southwest does not hesitate to throw someone off their passenger flights.

  13. Southwest is not at all liable. In addition to the great difficulty in proving that she contracted COVID at the training, then that her husband contract COVID from her, she chose to attend the training. There’s always a risk of contraction no matter how rigorous the restrictions. I’d throw out the lawsuit

  14. @trevor

    Are you just sitting around all day thinking of new ways to be the most disingenuous person alive?

  15. The age thing has be wondering because if she recognized less than optimal training room protocols, she could have left and made a claim to reschedule under better conditions.

    If she could not recognize and acted in her own best interests, how am I to expect she would recognize and react in my best interests on a plane?

  16. At her age, she should have not become a FA during the pandemic. She should have sheltered in place. Do not laugh. I did.

    As far as testing, the White House did far more testing that anywhere. Everyone was tested at least daily, some twice a day. Tests test galore. Then, wham, Trump got sick. It wasn’t mild. They poured the kitchen sink on him using experimental antibody infusion and other novel drugs.

    So testing is not the end all answer.

  17. Talk about a can of worms. If she wins her case then Pandora’s Box is well and truly opened. Normally I’d express sympathy for an elderly widow but not in this case. I hope she loses her case and has to pay all legal costs involved. Money-grabbing leech. Sorry for the crudeness Lucky, but that’s my take on this.

  18. Derek

    If you had read all the article you’d have seen she is 69 now and became a FA when she was 64 so 5 years ago – way before the pandemic.

  19. I hope SW fights it with everything they have. Shame on this pitiful woman. in a pandemic that took 500,000 Americans, is it possible that this is just an unfortunate end to her husbands life. Also unmentioned is that southwest offered all of their attendants early retirement, unpaid leave, or up to a year with 1/2 pay and full benefits. This woman should have taken the time off with a 72 year old husband in her home! But alas, she would probably claim this isnt about the money as would that blood sucking maggot attorney of hers.
    Best of Luck Southwest in taking care of the 55 k other employees, millions of loyal customers, and happy stockholders in beating this ludicrous lawsuit!!

  20. How can she prove she got the virus there and not on a flight? Or at the grocery store? From a coffee at Starbucks? Walking at a park etc? It takes 10 days for the virus to show positive in your system. She wouldn’t of gotten it the very next day. Loss is tragic. No amount of money is going to bring her husband back. I agree it should be dismissed.

  21. She’s going to have a hard time proving it but maybe the goal of this case is simply to settle (which in itself presents a slippery slope). I agree with Southwest that the protections don’t extend to the spouse. Most importantly she cannot prove that he contracted Covid from her or that she contracted it from the training. This story mentions that he drove her back and forth to training each day, did he stop for gas? Did he use a gas pump? Go in the convenience store to grab a cup of coffee? Did they go food shopping? He could have contracted it from community spread and then given it to her. We simply don’t know. In any case it’s a tragic story and I wish her peace.

  22. Only NJ, MD, and CA have enacted laws that would even remotely make this suit viable and virtually all of them have specific requirements that this wouldn’t meet. For example, CA requires the employee to either be in certain categories like medicine or first responder, and/or requires 4% of the worksite to test positive in order for the employer to pick up responsibility. COVID is not an operational disease like black lung, they won’t be able to prove specifically where she contracted it from.

  23. I am wondering if the plaintiff and her husband were immunized against Covid as they should have been according to their age? Also I would not think that this is a suitable profession to practice for a 69- year old during Covid especially if not immunized (I am a former flight attendant).

  24. One thing that has become apparent to me throughout the pandemic among those I knew who became infected, to a person, no one can say where and when it happened, myself included. I tested positive with no symptoms on March 6, 2020 six days after flights from Milan to JFK to SAN. I’m assuming it was in Milan, at a restaurant, hotel, on flights, trains, subways, client meetings, etc. I’ll never know.

    While I feel very sorry for this woman, I don’t believe her case is strong. However, in her favor is the fact that you never know what a jury will do so I predict that this might settle quietly for a modest amount.

  25. She became a flight attendant at 64! Why? This is the baby boomer madness that has caused so much issues in the world, the “I’m forever young” generation. This is ridiculous, she should have been at home like all the other seniors with her at risk spouse. I’m so tired of baby boomers never wanting to retire, just please exit stage left!

  26. Terrible tragedy. This is a civil case so burden of proof is different. The questions are weather the airline took reasonable precautions and is it reasonable to assume that she contracted covid at that event.

    We know little about it so far to make any real decisions.

  27. I say let it go to trial. If southwest did not provide CDC guidelines and contact tracing or employee covid testing then she has a reason to act. Many elders did online shopping and stayed away from home but if southwest could not offer a waiver for the renewal of certified license then they should have protected their employees. The DMV, school state testing even court rooms provided waivers or extensions. If everyone else did it why didn’t southwest provide waivers.

  28. Uh oh……. not “her”, should be “she”……….”.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.”

  29. Malin Neno says:
    April 30, 2021 at 10:27 am

    I am wondering if the plaintiff and her husband were immunized against Covid as they should have been according to their age? Also I would not think that this is a suitable profession to practice for a 69- year old during Covid especially if not immunized (I am a former flight attendant).


    If you had read the article properly you’d have seen that this happened in JULY last year.

  30. GG, I Hope you did not mean that comment about “baby boomers” exactly as stated
    Many of us are still employed, better yet employers! We managed thru the terrible business shutdown of a pandemic, but took care of all of our employees even though we lost much revenue and our own income.
    I don’t think you would want us to exit or more employees may have a difficult time with loss of income. Anyway this format is about Southwest’s obligation to their employees, not so much her age. Many 65 year olds are healthy responsible great employees as u may also be someday!

  31. How can Southwest be held liable for his death when SHE attended the training?
    Isn’t she then culpable to some degree? Sorry sister sounds like, you’re looking for deep pockets

  32. First of all, we all have probably lost one person or another, and how can Southwest be liable for this? THIS SHOULD NOT even be allowed to be heard in the courts. There is absolutely no way to prove where she got this from, and even if it was from there, she is her own person, and if her husband was sick already or high risk, she should have not gone there. She took the risk by attending that training. Employers can be so careful and this can still happen, because they have employees that don’t follow the rules and why is that the employer’s fault? They don’t know where their employees were and who they were around before they get into work? Most people don’t know they are contagious until they exhibit signs, and 2 days before that, they were spreading it. This pandemic is on China, not on Southwest! DON’T ALLOW THIS LAW SUIT TO BE HEARD. IN FACT ALL LAW SUITS REGARDING PEOPLE DYING FROM THE VIRUS SHOULD BE THROWN OUT OF COURT, unless someone infects someone knowingly and with intent to pass the virus, and this would have to be provable, not a guess it could have happened that way. My dad died from Covid-19 and went to two doctor offices prior, and you don’t see me suing them. Is it the dentist or doctor’s fault someone sat in their waiting room with Covid-19? and did not tell the doctor or dentist.

  33. I flew for a major USA based airline for 51yrs. I accepted a retirement package as a result of Covid-19. Someone posted a remark questioning why she attended training. Annual training is mandated by the FAA. It is not optional. The flight attendant in this article is fairly junior. I am not aware of the policies other than the airline that employed me but she might remain on probation. Probation usually lasts a minimum of 6 months. A failure to maintain current safety and medical qualifications as per the FAA could end employment.

    I cannot imagine how she is coping each and every day. Her emotional life is now out of control.

  34. Mememe

    She has been an FA with the airline for FIVE years so unlikely to still be on probation.

  35. Firsts..she is right! Using the items they used in training should have been sanitized..and they were flag
    The separation of space was notcrespected.
    Someone else in that class got sick as well.
    This lady lost her husband to getting covudcat avtrajnjng designed by Southwest Airlines..they dropped the ball…the whole class should have walked out
    Pay the lady…I wish her the best!

  36. OMG! Who do you think you are, people???

    I am not speaking about whether or not SWA is liable in this women’s suit.
    I am speaking to the AGEISTS out there that think 65 is too elderly to hold a job like this! My mom is 67 but people often mistake her for someone in her 50s. She is not only warm and witty, but can run rings around others much younger than she is. She has no problem driving in busy traffic, gets up and down ladders at home (and at work), and even has “dance” competitions with her grandkids. She is giving her family and everyone she meets a lesson in being alive. How DARE any of you judge this women’s abilities! Of course I would rather mom stayed home longer during the pandemic, but she felt she needed the income, the pandemic unemployment wasn’t enough and she needed to support her employer who had a few immunocompromised people on staff. We did everything we could to support her, but in the end she felt compelled to go back. Luckily, her employer ( also her age) went over the top to ensure everyone was as safe as possible. This woman, who SWA CHOSE to hire, could obviously do the job, or she wouldn’t be employed. And she had the reasonable expectation that mandatory training would be conducted in a safe manner. It was obviously not. The burden is whether SWA can be blamed for the illness and consequent death. How OLD she is doesn’t matter if reasonable safety measures were followed.
    Really, those of you who say she is too old for the job sound ignorant. She is not stealing a job from anyone and has every right to work if she wants to. Let’s see how YOU feel at that age and someone tells you to get out of the way.

  37. I believe July 2020 everybody was screening for Covid. Most places were taking temperatures with digital thermometers. I’m very surprised her FA training didn’t offer that screening that seemed like gold standard protocol for Covid. Good luck to her.

Leave a Reply

If you'd like to participate in the discussion, please adhere to our commenting guidelines. Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Reminder: OMAAT comments are changing soon. Register here to save your space.