A Southwest Airlines flight attendant has filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the airline, accusing it of lax COVID-19 protocols and contact tracing that resulted in her husband’s death. Carol Madden, 69, filed the suit in the U.S. District Court in Maryland seeking more than $3 million in damages.
On July 13, Madden attended a one-day training session at Baltimore-Washington International Airport. Bill, her husband, drove her home from the event.
According to the lawsuit, the couple became ill a few days later and tested positive for COVID-19. His health rapidly deteriorated, and he died a few weeks later. The first cause of death was COVID pneumonia. Bill, a veteran and retired railroad signal engineer, was 73 years old.
“He was a phenomenal man. He had a heart of gold,” Madden said of her husband of 35 years. “There is nothing and no one that can replace him.”
Madden said that she “firmly believes my husband would still be here” if Southwest had applied the same safety protocols for employees as it does for passengers. “They were cleaning the seats. They were cleaning the air vents. They were cleaning the seat belts. Every touchpoint was cleaned,”‘ she told the outlet. “They did not do that in my training last year.”
The training is required by the Federal Aviation Administration, and Madden said she was originally scheduled to begin in April 2020, but it was pushed back to mid-July when the pandemic began.
Southwest flight attendants and instructors were not screened for COVID-19 symptoms prior to or during the daylong training, according to the complaint. They were allegedly not questioned about potential exposure.
Attendees were required to wear masks, but no hand sanitizer was provided. Fire extinguishers and megaphones, for example, were allegedly not sanitized between uses. According to the lawsuit, the human-sized dummy used for self-defense training was also not wiped down despite flight attendants’ “extensive physical contact” with it.
Madden, who is a cancer survivor, said that the trainees were also not able to practice strict social distancing. “We were at 6-foot tables, folding tables with legs,” she said. “You’re not 6 feet apart. You’re maybe 4 feet or less.”
After returning home from the training, a woman who had participated in Madden’s training tested positive for COVID-19. Even after reporting the couple’s symptoms on July 23, Madden claims she was not informed by the airline or her union. The Maddens had received their COVID-19 tests that day but would have to wait several days for the results.
“They told me they would not pay me or they would not take (attendance) points away until I proved that I had COVID,” she said.
According to Madden’s lawsuit, she could have isolated from her husband sooner if Southwest had immediately informed her about her exposure to an infected coworker.
“I was devastated when I found out that the woman that was at the table with me had COVID,” she said, adding that she learned about the development on Facebook.
On Friday, Southwest Airlines filed a motion to dismiss the case. While sympathizing with Madden’s loss, Southwest argued that the blame for Bill’s death is “misplaced.”
According to the airline, it is required to provide a “reasonably safe work environment” for employees but not for spouses or other members of their household. Southwest reportedly argued that it is also impossible to know when Madden became infected with the coronavirus.
“The claims asserted in the complaint reflect an understandably emotional response to a devastating personal loss, but they are not actionable under the law,” the airline said.