Coronavirus: Florida family sues Publix after employee, 70, dies of COVID-19

MIAMI BEACH, Fla. — A wrongful death lawsuit filed Monday by the family of a 70-year-old grocery store employee accused Publix Super Markets Inc. of refusing to allow him to wear a face mask, thereby, causing his death from COVID-19.

Gerardo “Gerry” Gutierrez died April 28 after contracting the novel coronavirus, WFLA reported.

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“After his coworker tested positive for the virus, Gerry was sent home to isolate. Soon thereafter, he developed a cough and a fever. Within days, he tested positive and was hospitalized,” the family’s attorneys wrote in a statement.

“Publix eventually changed course, but for Gerry, that was too little too late. On April 28, he died alone in the hospital. His four grown children had to say goodbye over a video call,” they added.

The lawsuit, filed in Miami-Dade County circuit court, seeks more than $30,000 in damages for Gutierrez’s family and accuses the grocery chain of prohibiting employees from wearing both masks and gloves as the virus began spreading throughout Florida in March. Gutierrez had worked in the deli department at a Miami Beach store, WPTV reported.

The lawsuit states that Gutierrez continued to work despite the lack of precautions being taken because he believed the chain’s assertions that “all measures necessary to keep him safe” were being taken, the TV station reported.

The suit alleges, however, that Publix “minimized, downplayed, misrepresented and otherwise concealed” the risk its prohibition on personal protective equipment posed to employees and “intentionally chose to protect sales over the health and well-being of its employees and customers knowing that employees, especially a 70-year-old employee working next to a sick co-worker, such as Gerardo Gutierrez, would be exposed to COVID-19 and die.”

According to its website, Lakeland, Florida-based Publix operates 1,258 stores across the Southeast and employs more than 225,000 people. The company has not publicly addressed the lawsuit.

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