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Tyson Workers Say Poultry Act Doesn’t Shield Company From Suit

Dec. 29, 2020, 9:32 PM

A group of current and former Tyson Foods Inc. workers who claim they caught the coronavirus at the company’s Carthage, Texas, facility say Tyson can’t argue that the federal Poultry Products Inspection Act preempts their state law gross negligence claim.

The workers made that argument in papers filed Monday in opposition to the company’s motion to dismiss their lawsuit at a Tyler, Texas, federal court.

“It is no surprise that Tyson could not cite a single case where the PPIA preempted a plaintiff’s state law tort personal injury claims,” attorneys for the workers said. “In fact, after an extensive search, Plaintiffs were unable to find a case where injury claims like those they have filed here were preempted by the PPIA or any other related statute.”

The lawsuit was originally in a Texas state court in July and later removed to the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Texas at Tyler. The workers allege the company required employees to come to work even after Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) issued an emergency executive order requiring all Texans to stay home unless they were participating in an essential service or activity, effective April 2.

They also claimed Tyson didn’t provide employees with adequate precautions or protections against Covid-19.

The company has called into question the workers’ alleged failure to establish causation of their infections.

“Plaintiffs must plead—and ultimately prove—that they contracted COVID-19 from their place of work rather than elsewhere, and then, that they contracted COVID-19 due to Tyson’s alleged negligence rather than some other cause,” company lawyers argued in their Dec. 14 motion to dismiss.

The company also told U.S. District Judge J. Campbell Barker that state requirements regarding the control of infectious disease in meat-processing facilities are preempted by the federal act, which regulates the inspection and slaughter of birds for human consumption.

Tyson claims the federal poultry inspection law addresses issues of employee hygiene and infectious diseases within poultry product regulation, and therefore its provisions should preempt the workers’ state claim that they weren’t provided proper protection, among other allegations.

In their opposition Tuesday, the plaintiffs also asserted that “it is well known that Tyson employees have experienced a much higher rate of positive cases of COVID-19 than the rest of the country. Said differently, it is more than plausible that Plaintiffs’ contracted the virus at Tyson’s meatpacking plant.”

The case is Fields v. Brown, E.D. Tex., No. 6:20-cv-00475, 12/28/20.

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

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Martha Mueller Neff at mmuellerneff@bloomberglaw.com; Andrew Harris at aharris@bloomberglaw.com

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