Family of tornado victim in central Illinois sues Amazon over warehouse collapse

The family of an Amazon delivery driver, who died when the central Illinois Amazon facility where he worked collapsed due to a tornado, filed a wrongful death lawsuit Monday in Madison County. The lawsuit on behalf of 26-year-old Austin McEwen claims that Amazon failed to warn employees of dangerous weather or provide safe shelter before a tornado slammed into the Edwardsville facility on Dec. 10, killing McEwen and five others.

McEwen’s parents, Randy and Alice McEwen, allege that Amazon administrators knew severe weather was imminent but had no emergency plan nor evacuated employees from the fulfillment center.  Mrs. McEwen said at a news conference on Monday: “Sadly, it appears that Amazon placed profits first during this holiday season instead of the safety of our son and the other five.”  The lawsuit stated that Amazon “carelessly required individuals … to continue working up until the moments before the tornado struck” and “improperly directed” McEwen and colleagues to shelter in a rest room, which it says the company knew or should have known wasn’t safe.  The lawsuit seeks more than $50,000 from each of the four defendants named in the suit, which includes Amazon.com, the construction company that built the facility and the project’s developer.

Amazon spokeswoman Kelly Nantel released a statement that countered that the lawsuit: “This was a new building less than four years old, built in compliance with all applicable building codes, and the local teams were following the weather conditions closely. Severe weather watches are common in this part of the country and, while precautions are taken, are not cause for most businesses to close down. We believe our team did the right thing as soon as a warning was issued.”  Nantel said the company would defend itself against the lawsuit but would continue to focus on “supporting our employees and partners, the families who lost loved ones, the surrounding community, and all those affected by the tornadoes.”

Editorial credit: Mike Mareen / Shutterstock.com

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