A Southwest Airlines flight attendant has filed a wrongful-death lawsuit against the company over its alleged lax coronavirus protocols during training — that she said led her to catch COVID-19 and give it to her husband, who died of the illness a month later.
New York native Carol Madden, 69, a cancer survivor who has worked with the airline since 2016, is seeking more than $3 million in damages for what she claims was the airline’s negligence during mandatory training last summer, USA Today reported.
Madden and her husband, Bill, who drove her home from the one-day training session at Baltimore-Washington International Airport, became ill days later and eventually tested positive for the virus.
The 73-year-old died a few weeks later in a York, Pennsylvania, hospital, with COVID pneumonia listed as the primary cause of death, according to the news outlet, which cited the lawsuit filed in US District Court in Maryland.
Madden told USA Today 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 touch point was cleaned. They did not do that in my training last year,” she told the paper Tuesday.
“I love my airline, but they didn’t love me back,” Madden added.
The airline has filed a motion to dismiss the case in which it expressed its sympathy to Madden and others who have lost loved one to the illness, but said blaming it for the death is “misplaced.”
The carrier said it is required to provide a “reasonably safe work environment” for its workers, but that the “duty of care” does not extend to spouses or others in the household.
Southwest also said there is no way to know exactly where or when Madden contracted the disease.
“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.
Madden’s attorney, Dan Mastromarco, said he was preparing a legal response, according to USA Today.
The flight attendants and instructors were not screened for COVID-19 symptoms before or during the daylong training or asked about possible exposure to the illness, the lawsuit states.
Although masks were required, there were no hand sanitizers and equipment use during the training wasn’t cleaned between uses, according to the suit.
A human-sized dummy named Bob used for self-defense training also wasn’t wiped down and social distancing was sparse, it added.
“Southwest failed to sanitize Bob or any of the other equipment used during this proficiency training,” the lawsuit says.
In a statement, Southwest spokesman Brad Hawkins extended the airline’s sympathy to Madden and said the well-being of the employees and passengers has been its “uncompromising priority” since the beginning of the pandemic.
“Southwest has taken enhanced measures to clean and maintain our aircraft, airports and work centers and follows all notification guidelines in accordance with the (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention),” Hawkins told USA Today .
“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. Southwest will continue our dedicated efforts to support our people and communities as we collectively work together to slow the spread of COVID-19 during the ongoing pandemic,” he added.
Madden, who joined Southwest at age 64 after several other careers, including real estate and paralegal services, told the paper that she has “worn seven hats in my life, adding, “This was my dream.”
She called her late husband, a retired railroad employee to whom she was married for 35 years, “a phenomenal man. He had a heart of gold.”
Madden added: “There is nothing and no one that can replace him.”
She took some time off after her husband died, but is back to flying for Southwest.
“I had to put my grief, my loneliness. I had to put that under my uniform,” the widow said.