If you’re a current subscriber, log in below. If you would like to subscribe, please click the subscribe tab above.
Username and Password Help
On Monday, Jan. 17, Clifford Law Offices filed a lawsuit on behalf of the family of a 26-year-old delivery driver who was killed after he was working at an Amazon distribution center in Edwardsville, Illinois when a tornado struck the facility Dec. 10.
Clifford Law Firm said that Austin McEwen, an independent contractor of Amazon, driving for an Amazon Delivery Service Partner, was one of numerous individuals required to work during an Amazon “peak season.” The firm alleges that Amazon management knew that conditions were highly unsafe, as tornado warnings had been issued. Tornado warnings had been issued for southwestern Illinois as early as Dec. 9, 2021, and were re-issued on several occasions with growing concern and intensity over the next 24 hours.
“Initial investigation reveals that workers at the facility, including McEwen, were required to continue working instead of being told to evacuate when it was known of the possibility of a major tornado. In addition, initial investigation reveals that the Amazon facility had no basement shelter, despite this area of Illinois being prone to tornadoes, and no safety plan or adequate emergency plan required by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA),” said Jack J. Casciato, partner at Clifford Law Offices who represents the family of the young driver, in a press release. “Further, reports indicate that Amazon directed McEwen and five others that were killed to shelter in a bathroom when Amazon knew or should have known that this location would not protect them. It is believed that this is the first lawsuit filed against Amazon for this incident.”
Casciato’s statement continues, “Initial reports from those that survived this avoidable tragedy are disturbing. We certainly intend to discover what precautions Amazon could have taken to save lives. Certainly, this entire facility could have been evacuated when it was believed a tornado was en route. It appears that holiday profits took precedence over safety. We need to find out if training and emergency protocols were in place for those in the building as well as those who entered the building with jobs regularly connected to Amazon outside of the facility.”
Early investigative reports have indicated that Amazon management knew or should have known of this tornado more than 24 hours before it destroyed the facility. The law firm’s complaint alleges that Amazon failed to adhere to OSHA preparedness plans for inclement weather, could have evacuated workers but chose to have workers continue working during a peak holiday season, and failed to have a facility that contained a basement shelter. OSHA has opened an investigation into workplace safety at the fulfillment center following this tragic event.
During a press conference held over Zoom on Monday, Jan. 17, at noon, McEwen’s parents, Alice and Randy McEwen detailed the joy their only child brought to their lives and the loss they feel. “We looked forward to seeing him get married, have children of his own and celebrate life’s milestones in the years to come. This was all taken from us,” Alice said.
“One of the interesting facts that needs to be looked into is whether Amazon placed profits over safety here,” Casciato said during Monday’s press conference.
In addition, members of Congress have sent a letter to Amazon and its CEO Jeff Bezos seeking answers. The E-3 tornado is reported to have hit the distribution center in downstate Illinois Edwardsville at 8:28 p.m. with winds reaching speeds of 150 mph. The roof of the massive facility collapsed, leveling the building.
A spokesperson for Amazon released the following statement regarding the suit:
“This lawsuit misunderstands key facts, such as the difference between various types of severe weather and tornado alerts, as well as the condition and safety of the building. The truth is that this was a new building less than four years old, built in compliance with all applicable building codes, and the local teams were following the weather conditions closely. Severe weather watches are common in this part of the country and, while precautions are taken, are not cause for most businesses to close down. We believe our team did the right thing as soon as a warning was issued, and they worked to move people to safety as quickly as possible. We will defend against this lawsuit, but our focus continues to be on supporting our employees and partners, the families who lost loved ones, the surrounding community, and all those affected by the tornadoes.”
The complaint is being e-filed in Madison County State Court located in downstate Edwardsville, Illinois. A copy of the complaint is available at the firm’s website: www.CliffordLaw.com