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Tyson Foods Wins Dismissal in Texas Workers’ Virus Safety Suit

Sept. 22, 2021, 9:38 PM

A federal judge in Texas dismissed a negligence suit filed by current and former Tyson Foods Inc. workers, who claimed they contracted Covid-19 because the company failed to take adequate safety precautions.

Judge J. Campbell Barker of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Texas said in an opinion Wednesday that two laws “foreclose” on the plaintiffs’ claims, including the Pandemic Liability Protection Act, a Covid-19 liability law that Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) signed into law June 14, 2021.

Barker wrote that the workers failed to prove causation “because they provide no ‘reliable scientific evidence’ that shows that Tyson was the cause-in-fact of plaintiffs’ contracting COVID-19.”

“Plaintiffs make only conclusory statements that they contracted COVID-19 because of unsafe working conditions, without alleging how, when, or why they contracted COVID-19 or accounting for other possible sources of infection,” the judge added. The workers also “fail to allege the dates on which they allegedly contracted COVID-19.”

Tyson Foods spokesman Gary Mickelson said that “we’re pleased with the dismissal and are confident other courts handling similar cases will reach the same conclusion.”

The lawsuit originally was filed in a Texas state court in July 2020 and later removed to the Eastern District of Texas.

The workers alleged the company required employees to come to the Carthage, Texas, facility even after Abbott issued an emergency executive order requiring that all residents stay home unless they were participating in an essential service or activity, effective April 2, 2020.

In calling for dismissal, Tyson Foods argued that the federal Poultry Products Inspection Act addresses issues of employee hygiene and infectious diseases within poultry product regulation, and that its provisions should preempt the workers’ state claim that they weren’t provided with proper protection, among other allegations. Barker agreed with that argument.

The judge said that under the state Covid-19 liability law, the plaintiffs couldn’t prove that Tyson Foods either “knowingly failed to warn them or remedy some condition at the facility that the company knew would expose plaintiffs to COVID-19,” or that it knowingly flouted government pandemic guidance that was applicable to the business.

The case is Fields v. Brown, E.D. Tex., No. 6:20-cv-00475, 9/22/21.

To contact the reporter on this story: Fatima Hussein in Washington at fhussein@bloombergindustry.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: John Lauinger at jlauinger@bloomberglaw.com; Martha Mueller Neff at mmuellerneff@bloomberglaw.com

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