Flight Attendant Is Suing Southwest Airlines For Killing Her Husband

It’s amazing that lawsuits over Covid-19 haven’t been nearly as significant as feared. At one point Covid-19 legislation was being held up in Congress over disagreements about including lawsuit immunity for employers (predictably Republicans favored this on behalf of business, and Democrats opposed on behalf of trial lawyers).

Yet there’s a new lawsuit by a Southwest Airlines flight attendant who says she contracted Covid-19 during recurrent training, gave it to her husband, and he died.

  • It’s difficult to prove where she actually contracted Covid-19, though someone else in training wound up having it. She didn’t learn about this from the airline or her union, underlining the failure of contact tracing in this country, she found out about it on Facebook.

  • She points out the failures of cleaning protocols during training, even though CDC suggests surface transmission is not a significant factor in spreading the virus.

  • And Southwest says that they can’t be held liable for whom the flight attendant spread it to after becoming infected, even if she picked up the virus at their event (which is only inferred circumstantially) and due to their negligence (arguments for which seem to be inconsistent with CDC guidance).

Carol Madden, a 69-year-old Baltimore-based flight attendant who has worked for Southwest since 2016, is seeking more than $3 million in damages for what the lawsuit says was the airline’s negligence, according to the suit filed in U.S. District Court in Maryland.

…Southwest flight attendants and instructors were not screened for COVID symptoms prior to or during the day-long training or asked about COVID exposure, according to the lawsuit.

Masks were required, but there was no hand sanitizer supplied, and equipment from fire extinguishers to megaphones wasn’t sanitized between uses, the lawsuit says. The human-sized dummy used for self-defense training wasn’t wiped down either, despite flight attendants’ “extensive physical contact” with it. The dummy’s name: Bob.

Ms. Madden participated in government-mandated recurrent training. Lack of sanitization of surfaces is much less likely to have caused spread than being indoors congregating with others who might have been infected with the virus, though of course a majority of people who have Covid-19 don’t spread it so it’s impossible to say just because of an indoor exposure that that person was the cause. If there were failures of Covid precaution, though, it seems more likely to be lack of ventilation than lack of sanitizing fire extinguishers.

I feel for her loss. And we’ll no doubt see more lawsuits related to Covid-19 but the fact that this hasn’t been widespread is what’s most striking to me.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. Most companies avoided training for most of last year. In the exceptional circumstances for mandatory DOT/FAA recurrent training, my company went overboard to protect people from exposure. From what you posted, Southwest was negligent. They have 69 year old employee and did nothing to prevent exposure? Guilty as charged!

  2. In a normally-functioning society, something that has been absent over a number of decades, especially during the past year, this lawsuit would be thrown out on the first day in court.

  3. If she had died, her husband may or may not have had a case, but the idea that WN is responsible for her spreading it to her husband is a heckuva stretch, legally. This was simply a plan to get WN to settle out of court quick.

    I am more astounded by the fact that WN hired her as a starting stewardess at the age of 64. How uncommon is that?

  4. I find it unlikely that Democrats are loving on trial lawyers. Many Democrats do favor consumers being able to sue companies which would inadvertently help trial lawyers but that’s only because it’s awfully tough to sue a big company without one.

  5. Joseph N: Maybe WN is trying to catch up with the age of UA flight attendants?

  6. Good for her; I hope she wins. Amazing that WN was able to do its training in such unhygienic conditions during a highly virulent pandemic; in serious countries the training would have been shut down by the health department. And thankfully Americans are free to sue and are not dictated by the government to shut up and take it.

  7. Wow she was hired at age 64???

    I agree with the other poster that this will probably end up as a settlement. Hopefully enough $$ she can retire.

  8. One of the biggest complaints I’ve had during this whole situation is companies refusing to let you know who has been sick at work. For example, my company will say “If a sick person has been in close contact with you, we will let you know”. How? We aren’t wearing trackable devices. Unless the ill person has a perfect memory and can recall the name of every person they have been in contact with, that is a faulty path IMO.

    And yeah, before someone asks or thinks it, except for about 6 weeks I have been in the office on a regular basis and people around me have been sick. Fortunately it appears that I haven’t caught it.

    I feel bad for this lady and her husband. Way too many people have died unnecessarily.

  9. So sorry she lost her husband. The fact she’s working at that age which is a bit grueling says something. At that point you’d be angry enough to sue anyone.

  10. This will no doubt start an avalanche of ambulance chasing lawyer actions on behalf of “gold digging” opportunists.

  11. “predictably Republicans favored this on behalf of business, and Democrats opposed on behalf of trial lawyers” injecting your right leaning views into your articles is off putting to say the least.

    If you want to turn this into a political discussion, go start a political blog.

    Also, retardicans want full blanket immunity for businesses from covid lawsuits. Forced to attend a training where your employer did 0 to prevent the spread of covid? Well either quit your job or go, get sick and have no legal recourse for your employer putting you in harms way. Yeah that sounds about right given your country’s standards…

  12. @Tom Hanson – “injecting your right leaning views into your articles is off putting to say the least.” what a strange world we’re in where readers view my framing Republican desire for a liability shield as protecting business being a right-leaning view.

    Although in fact if we wanted contact-tracing to work, and still believed it could, we’d have wanted businesses to be forthcoming about cases and where spread was occurring and to get that we’d have needed a safe harbor from liability. In fact contact tracing really broke down despite spending billions on it, and lawsuits have been limited in any case.

  13. @Gary Leff – “what a strange world we’re in where readers view my framing Republican desire for a liability shield as protecting business being a right-leaning view.”

    How un-strange for you to conveniently leave out the dig at Democrats a la your “and Democrats opposed on behalf of trial lawyers.” But hey, gas lighting to try to win your argument is par for the course for you right wingers.

    Perhaps if you framed it more accurately (i.e. “and Democrats opposed on behalf of workers”) your political views would not be so blatantly obvious.

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