On February 10, Daily Business Review published a story on the Publix Super Markets wrongful death suit our firm is bringing forward. Attorneys Michael Levine and Dax Bello are investigating Publix for their role in Gerardo Gutierrez’s death on behalf of his four adult children. The report focused on Publix’s effort to stop the suit by claiming it’s a “workers’ compensation” case, which would bar our clients from pursuing Publix in court.
In a significant early victory for our law firm, Judge Carlos Lopez denied the supermarket chain’s attempt to dismiss our case. Our case will now proceed into discovery where we will be entitled to depose Publix personnel and review internal documents to uncover the policy decisions that led to our clients’ father’s death.
COVID-19 Case with National Significance
DBR reports that the case is likely to be monitored by the larger legal community—and for good reason. This case contains a perfect storm of facts that can directly connect Mr. Gutierrez’s death to his employer’s actions. Meanwhile, the Florida legislature is working on a bill that would shield companies from liability from COVID-related lawsuits. The reality is, however, that very few lawsuits like ours have been filed. And this case shows exactly why companies should not receive blanket immunity from lawsuits: we need to hold wrongdoers accountable. That is what our justice system is here to.
However, in Mr. Gutierrez’s case, there is obvious wrongdoing. For one thing, Publix promised employees they were taking the threat of infection seriously, but in fact, they were barring employees from wearing masks. At that time, other supermarkets were providing their employees with PPE, but Publix forced employees to go without so that they wouldn’t “scare off customers.”
“Gerardo was going to work to ensure, along with his coworkers, that folks got what they needed for an extended quarantine,” Attorney Dax Bello said. “Unfortunately, rather than instituting policies to keep him and his coworkers safe, their mandate failed him miserably.”
It was this policy that allowed our clients’ father to work unmasked with someone exhibiting COVID symptoms. Publix reversed their mask policy within a few weeks, but it was too late: Mr. Gutierrez was already hospitalized for COVID-19.
“The bottom line is Mr. Gutierrez trusted Publix,” Attorney Michael Levine said. “Publix made statements that they were taking everything seriously, that they were doing everything possible to protect their workers, and the fact is their conduct was anything but.”
The “Perfect Storm” of Facts
One of the reasons so few COVID-19-related suits have been filed is that it can be very difficult to prove where a person contracted the virus. We are not worried about that in this case. Mr. Gutierrez lived alone and at the time he became sick, most of our community was shut down. At the same time, Publix was denying him and his co-workers the right to wear PPE and Mr. Gutierrez worked alongside an ill co-worker two days in a row.
We intend to hold Publix accountable for its reckless decision and Mr. Gutierrez’s death for the sake of his family. We hope this case sends a message that businesses cannot ignore the safety of their workers.
Read this story in the Daily Business Review.