A federal district court judge has dismissed a lawsuit brought by a Southwest Airlines flight attendant against her employer for the unlawful death of her husband. Carol Madden, 69, accused Southwest Airlines of sloppy infection controls at its training center which resulted in her catching COVID-19 and then infecting her husband who subsequently succumbed to his illness.
Madden is a veteran flight attendant who previously survived cancer and had worked throughout the pandemic. She believes she caught COVID-19 during annual federally mandated recurrent training at a Southwest Airlines training center.
The Baltimore-based flight attendant had been seeking more than $3 million in damages from the airline, claiming that poor pandemic protocols at the training center, as well as sloppy contact tracing, contributed to her husband’s death.
Her husband’s health rapidly deteriorated shortly after he was diagnosed with COVID-19 and he died a few weeks later after being admitted to the ICU. His death certificate lists COVID pneumonia as the first cause of death. Bill Madden was just 73 years old when he passed away.
Lawyers acting on behalf of Southwest said that while the company had a great amount of sympathy for Mrs Madden, the airline’s duty of care did not extend to the relatives of its employees. Therefore, the lawsuit should be thrown out.
A district court judge agreed, based partly on the fact that finding in favor of Mrs Madden would risk creating numerous other lawsuits.
“Maryland’s third-party duty case law and its emphasis on limiting the class of prospective future plaintiffs heavily informs the Court’s balancing,” Judge Stephanie A. Gallagher’s said in her ruling as reported by Business Insurance.
“In fact, it is the dispositive weight on the scale in favor of finding ‘no duty’ here, despite the fact that the narrow majority of factors, including foreseeability, favor imposition of duty,” the ruling continued.
“Maryland courts have made their priorities with regard to third-party duties clear, and the prospect of an unstemmed and ill-defined tide of third-party plaintiffs bringing suit predominates the duty analysis.”
The lawsuit had claimed that while face masks were required at the training center, Southwest failed to provide hand sanitizer and shared equipment wasn’t wiped down or disinfected between attendees. Social distancing was also not properly enforced, the lawsuit claims.
Carol attended the training center on July 13 and fell ill several days later. A short time after, Bill also started to feel unwell.
It wasn’t until July 27, however, that Southwest Airlines contacted Carol to tell her that someone on her training course had tested positive for COVID-19. By this point, 10 days had passed after her coworker tested positive and it was a full 14 days after the training course.
In an interview with USA Today, Carol said the airline “didn’t care about us… we were expendable”.
Southwest Airline said it had “taken enhanced measures to clean and maintain our aircraft, airports and work centers and follows all notification guidelines in accordance with the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention.”
“Additionally, the Southwest team works each day to ensure that our multi-layered approach to supporting our employees’ and customers’ safety stays current with research findings and public health recommendations,” a statement provided by the airline continued.
Carol Madden’s attorney said he was “considering the many options available to us.”
Photo Credit: Stephen M. Keller / Southwest Airlines
Mateusz Maszczynski honed his skills as an international flight attendant at the most prominent airline in the Middle East and has been flying throughout the COVID-19 pandemic for a well-known European airline. Matt is passionate about the aviation industry and has become an expert in passenger experience and human-centric stories. Always keeping an ear close to the ground, Matt's industry insights, analysis and news coverage is frequently relied upon by some of the biggest names in journalism.