About the COVID-19 wrongful death lawsuits at Tyson Foods

In addition to multiple workers’ compensation cases, Tyson Foods is facing multiple wrongful death lawsuits related to the company’s abysmal response to COVID-19.

Now, attorneys for the family of one of the victims has amended their lawsuit filed in Federal Court in Iowa to include the shocking language and actions of Tyson executives and managers at the Waterloo plant.

About the wrongful death lawsuits

“Wrongful death” is the legal term for an unnatural death, resulting from an injury or incident that was caused by the bad conduct, wrongful acts or negligence of another person, or company.

Our civil justice system recognizes that no judge, jury, or lawyer can bring someone back to life. The only thing we can do is to provide the remaining family with monetary compensation through a wrongful death claim.

In the wrongful death lawsuits filed against Tyson Foods, the family members of the deceased workers say that the company’s dangerous and bad decisions caused these deaths.

Recently, the lawyers for the family of Isidro Fernandez amended their case to include some damning allegations against Tyson Foods.

The Estate of Isidro Fernandez et al v Tyson Foods et al

Plaintiffs: The plaintiff is the person who files the complaint, which opens the lawsuit. In wrongful death lawsuits, the plaintiff is usually the Estate of the deceased. The law requires that a designated person be appointed as the representative of the Estate, and that person protects the rights of all of the beneficiaries entitled to damages.

In this case, the plaintiff is the Estate of Isidro Fernandez, represented by his son Oscar.

Defendants: The defendant is the person or company against whom the complaint is filed.

In this case, the defendants are Tyson Foods, and several upper-level managers at Tyson Foods. In the complaint, the lawyers have grouped them into Executive Defendants, who made decisions on a corporate level, and Supervisory Defendants, who made decisions at the Waterloo, Iowa plant.

Venue: The District Court for Blackhawk County, Iowa—the location of the Tyson Foods processing plant in Waterloo, Iowa.

Allegations: The plaintiff is alleging that the defendants are responsible for the death of Mr. Fernandez, who was a Tyson Foods employee and fatally contracted COVID-19 at work. A summary of some of the very serious allegations:

  1. Tyson Foods management was aware of the danger of the virus.
  • In March, four employees at a Tyson plant in Georgia died. Two employees from another Iowa plant died.
  • By late March or early April, records show that the Tyson Foods executives and supervisors knew that COVID-19 was spreading throughout the Waterloo plant.
  • On just one day in April 2020, two dozen Waterloo plant employees were admitted to the local hospital.
  • The company allowed workers and subcontractors from the other Iowa plant, which had closed due to a coronavirus outbreak, to begin working in Waterloo in April.

2. Tyson Foods failed to provide and maintain a safe work environment. 

  • The plant failed to provide protective equipment or even basic sanitation;
  • Management lied to employees about the plant’s safety measures;
  • Management lied to employees about their fellow workers contracting the virus; and,
  • They used the fact that some of their workers have limited English language abilities to keep health and safety information from them.

3.  Tyson Foods  purposefully and knowingly put their employees—including Mr. Fernandez—at serious risk of illness or death. 

This was a systemic problem. When the wrongful death lawsuits were first filed, more than 8,500 Tyson employees contacted the virus—more than double the number for any other company.  Tyson Foods has repeatedly claimed that its Waterloo plant needed to remain open “to feed America.” Yet, the company increased its exports to China by 600% during the first quarter of 2020.

The defendants were “grossly negligent and reckless” and showed “willful and wonton disregard” for their employees. As a result, Isidor Fernandez contracted COVID-19 at work, and he died from the virus.

Update: On December 16, 2020, Tyson Foods announced that seven managers at the plant had been terminated. 


New allegations in the Amended Complaint

A local news outlet published the Amended Complaint, filed November 11, 2020. The complaint was amended to include the statements from plant management. Here are some of the most alarming allegations.

The Plant Manager organized a cash buy-in, winner-take-all betting pool to wager how many workers would test positive for COVID-19.

Management explicitly directed plant supervisors to ignore symptoms of COVID-19, stating it’s “not a big deal” and “everyone is going to get it.”

The supervisors and plant managers themselves were avoiding the plant floor, out of fear of contracting the virus. Still, they permitted and even encouraged employees who were feeling ill to return to work.

What are the wrongful death lawsuits requesting?

Here’s what they are asking for as a remedy in the Fernandez case.

Damages: Damages are the financial compensation for a plaintiff. The plaintiffs in the Fernandez case, filed by attorneys at Frerichs Law Office in Iowa (others are represented by the Spence Law Firm in Wyoming)  requested:

  • Economic damages: pre-death medical expenses, funeral expenses, and loss of future income.
  • Non-economic damages: the loss of function of body and mind, pain and suffering, and loss of consortium –  in this case, the presence of Mr. Fernandez as a husband and as a father.
  • Punitive damages: a financial punishment to the defendants in a civil case. Here, they asked for:

“an amount sufficient to punish the Defendants for their egregious, life-threatening misconduct and deter similar misconduct in the future.”

No specific amounts were named in the lawsuit.

What happens next?

The attorneys for the plaintiffs and defendants will proceed with discovery—the process of exchanging information and documents, and asking witnesses questions under oath. The court lays out deadlines for the trial process.

If this case is settled out of court, we may never know the resolution, or the amount of the damages.

If the case proceeds to a jury trial in court, then the jurors will decide if the defendants are guilty, or not guilty. If they are found guilty, the jurors will decide the damages.

It’s my opinion that Tyson Foods clearly prioritized company profits, and their own profits, over the safety and well-being of the people who did the actual work. 

As a direct result, people died.

The danger of COVID-19 was obvious. The defendants were demonstrably aware of it.

The death of Isidor Fernandez was predictable, and preventable. We think the jury will agree.






Lawsuit: Tyson managers bet money on how many workers would contract COVID-19


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