Entertainment And News

Amazon Accused Of Prioritizing Profits Over Lives In Wrongful Death Lawsuit After Warehouse Collapse

Photo: Mike Mareen / Shutterstock.com
Amazon logistics center in Sweden

When Illinois was struck by a tornado over a month ago, disaster was left in its wake as several towns were almost entirely destroyed — including an Amazon Warehouse in Edwardsville, Illinois, that collapsed and killed six workers, injuring another.

When the girlfriend of 46-year-old Larry Virden was asked if she blamed Amazon for his death, she said “Not really. But it’s that what-if situation: What if they would have let him leave? He could have made it home.”

However, not everyone shares her sentiment, as one of the families has decided to sue Amazon for the wrongful death of their son, 26-year-old Austin McEwen.

Amazon is being sued in its first wrongful death lawsuit following the Edwardsville tornado.

Clifford Law attorney Jack Casciato was hired by the McEwen family and questions whether or not “profits [took] precedence over safety” on December 10th, the night of the tornado.

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“Was it more important to get these packages delivered during this holiday peak season — probably the highest profit season for Amazon — when they had warnings as early as the day before that this area could be hit by a tornado?” Casciato said Sunday.

“And as the day got onward and onward, the warnings continued to increase and they had people working up to the point of no return.”

McEwen’s parents planned to file a wrongful death lawsuit on Monday in Madison County, alleging the e-commerce giant failed to notify its workers of inclement weather and provide safe storm shelter.

While it is the first lawsuit filed against Amazon for the incident in Edwardsville, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration launched an investigation into the warehouse shortly after the collapse.

According to an advance copy of the lawsuit obtained by the Sun-Times, the accusers allege “that Amazon management was aware of the severe weather threat, but failed to evacuate the fulfillment center or have a proper emergency plan in place.”

The suit claims Amazon “carelessly required individuals... to continue working up until the moments before the tornado struck.” It also said Amazon “improperly directed” McEwen and others to seek shelter in a bathroom, which they “knew or should have known” wasn’t a safe place.

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“We learned from whistleblowers inside that warehouse that survived that there was absolutely no shelter in place. There were no drills. It was a chaotic scene,” Casciato said.

According to McEwin’s parents, Randy and Alice McEwen, and Casciato, Austin was very well-known in the Edwardsville community, as more than 1,500 people came to his funeral.

Through their attorney, Alice said “Amazon didn’t do much for us... [they] barely contacted us.”

After the tornado hit, Amazon spokesperson Kelly Nantel said “We’re deeply saddened by the news that members of our Amazon family passed away as a result of the storm in Edwardsville, IL. Our thoughts and prayers are with the victims, their loved ones, and everyone impacted by the tornado."

"We also want to thank all the first responders for their ongoing efforts on scene. We’re continuing to provide support to our employees and partners in the area.”

The company also said that they would be donating $1 million to the Edwardsville Community Foundation to support recovery efforts and that they were reaching out to the families affected to see if there was any way they could assist them financially.

The McEwen family is asking for more than $50,000 from the four defendants named in the lawsuit, including Amazon.com, the construction company that built the facility and the project’s developer.

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Isaac Serna-Diez is a writer who focuses on entertainment and news, social justice, and politics. Follow him on Twitter here.

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