Earlier this week, the Des Moines Register reported that the plaintiffs in four lawsuits filed against meatpacking giant Tyson on behalf of workers from the Waterloo plant who died of COVID-19 lacked legal standing to sue the company and could only file workers’ compensation claims. The lawyers for a Marshalltown man who worked at the JBS plant here and died of the virus in May of 2020, however, received more favorable news in a separate court ruling issued Jan. 5.
According to the Register, District Court Judge James Ellefson ordered that while the family of Jose Andrade-Garcia could not sue JBS as a whole in a civil suit, he would still reserve the right to determine whether individual company leaders could still be held liable for Andrade-Garcia’s death.
Brent Welder, a Marshalltown native who now practices law in Kansas City and is representing Andrade-Garcia’s family in partnership with Trial Lawyers for Justice, said he was “very pleased” with the ruling.
“It means that the family is going to be able to enter the discovery phase of the case, which means that we’re able to get evidence from the company and from the defendants to leave no stone unturned to find out exactly why the wrongdoers did what they did that led to the death of Jose Andrade-Garcia,” Welder said.
Several individual executives of the company — Tim Schellpeper, Chris Gaddis, Bob Krebs, Nicholas White, Todd Carl, Bradley Comstock, Nicholas Aguirre, Tyler Devick, Nikki Richardson and Cameron Bruett — are named as defendants in the suit, which alleges they made “deliberate decisions to value their own corporate profits above his health, safety, and ultimately, his life.”
The case was originally transferred to federal court but has since been remanded back to Marshall County District Court, where a 10-day jury trial is tentatively scheduled for June 4, 2024. Welder said he “fought hard” for that change as he believes a Marshall County jury pool should decide the outcome.
The original lawsuit, which was filed in April of 2022, does not specify a dollar amount sought in damages. Welder said financial relief was the only recourse for Andrade-Garcia’s wife Herminia Andrade and his daughter Maria Andrade.
“They hope that by seeking monetary damages against a giant corporation like this, that it will lead to safer working conditions for all meatpacking workers,” Welder said. “The number one thing that the family is seeking is for this company to be held accountable for the wrongful acts of its executives.”
As previously reported in the T-R, JBS threw what was deemed a “superhero” lunch for their employees, giving away free New York strip steaks and sides and posting photos on their Facebook page, on March 25, 2020, shortly after Gov. Kim Reynolds declared a public health disaster emergency that limited gatherings to 10 people.
Andrade-Garcia attended the lunch and began feeling sick during the second week of April, according to the court filing for the case. He was later hospitalized that month, first at UnityPoint in Marshalltown and eventually at the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics. He remained there until May 15, 2020, when he passed away.
Representatives of Brazil-based JBS and its subsidiary JBS USA, which is headquartered in Greeley, Colo., had not responded to requests for comment at presstime, and defense attorney Adam Zenor, who is representing the company, could not be immediately reached for comment Friday.