See's Candies Worker Sues Over Husband's COVID-19 Death

By Craig Clough
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Law360 (January 4, 2021, 5:04 PM EST) -- A See's Candies worker has sued the candy maker in Los Angeles Superior Court over claims she contracted COVID-19 on the job due to negligent safety standards and infected her husband, who later died due to complications from the virus.

The complaint was filed Wednesday by Matilde Ek, 70, and her three daughters, and says she contracted COVID-19 while working at the candy giant's Carson, California, plant on the packing line in early March.

After becoming infected, Ek stayed home from work while sick, and as a result her 72-year-old husband and a daughter also caught the virus, according to the lawsuit. Her husband, Arturo Ek, died April 20.

"Defendants failed to operate and conduct their business as would and should be expected to protect their employees, including plaintiff, from the known high risk of this viral infection by failing to put known, appropriate and necessary safety mitigation measures in place," Ek said.

According to the lawsuit, Ek worked on the packing line in close proximity to other employees and without proper safety measures taken when the COVID-19 outbreak began around the country in early March.

Between March 1 and March 19, Ek worked without proper social distancing on the packing line, while using the restrooms and break rooms in close proximity to other workers, she said. Some workers were coughing, sneezing and showing other signs of COVID-19 infections, according to Ek.

Plant employees complained directly to supervisors, as did the employees' union, about the safety protocols at the plant amid the pandemic, but the company failed to enact proper procedures that would have safeguarded workers' health, according to Ek.

"Defendants knew and should have known that their failure to take appropriate and necessary safety mitigation measures would increase the known and foreseeable risk that their workers, like plaintiff, would become infected in the course and scope of their work for defendants, and carry said viral infection home infecting one or more of their family members," Ek said.

The lawsuit seeks unspecified damages and includes causes of action for general negligence, premises liability and dangerous condition of public property.

Ek's complaint is just the latest in a series of lawsuits filed against food companies over allegedly lax COVID-19 safety protocols.

Last month, a California state judge issued a temporary restraining order against Foster Farms requiring the poultry processor to comply with COVID-19 safety protocols issued by county health regulators after a previous coronavirus outbreak at a company facility in Central California sickened more than 400 workers and caused nine deaths.

In November, Tyson Foods suspended top officials at a facility in Iowa over allegations in amended federal lawsuits from the estates of four workers who died of COVID-19 that the leaders organized a betting pool on how many employees would contract the virus as it spread through the workforce.

Counsel for Ek did not immediately respond to a request for comment Monday. See's Candies declined to comment. 

Ek is represented by Joel Krissman of Krissman & Silver LLP.

Counsel information for See's Candies was not immediately available Monday.

The case is Matilde Ek et al. v. Sees Candies Inc. et al., case number 20STCV49673, in the Superior Court of California, County of Los Angeles.

--Additional reporting by Y. Peter Kang. Editing by Stephen Berg.

Update: This story has been updated with See's Candies declining comment. 

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