Family of U.S. meat plant worker who died of COVID-19 sues JBS

(Reuters) - The family of a Pennsylvania man who died from COVID-19 has sued JBS S.A.JBSS3.SA, the world's largest beef producer, for causing his death by failing to protect him from the disease at the meat processing plant where he worked.

Enock Benjamin died on April 3 of the respiratory disease after becoming infected by the new coronavirus while working at the JBS plant in Souderton, Pennsylvania, according to a lawsuit filed on Thursday in state court in Philadelphia.

The wrongful death lawsuit says JBS failed to provide sufficient protective equipment and forced employees to work in close proximity and share crowded break areas and restrooms.

“By choosing profits over safety, JBS demonstrated a reckless disregard to the rights and safety of others, including Enock Benjamin,” the complaint said.

JBS did not immediately respond to a request for comment, but the company had said it increased efforts to disinfect its facilities, promoted distance between workers, added cleaning staff to its plants and expanded space in locker rooms.

The Souderton plant was closed on March 30 after several employees became ill with COVID-19 symptoms.

The lawsuit alleges JBS negligently ignored health and safety guidelines and misrepresented to workers their risk of infection.

The COVID-19 outbreak has killed more than 75,000 people in the United States, according to Reuters data.

Workers at food processing plants have been especially hard hit by the outbreak, forcing the closure of numerous facilities and disrupting U.S. meat supply.

In late April, President Donald Trump issued an executive order intended to keep food processing plants operating despite concerns about outbreaks.

The family of a Walmart Inc WMT.N employee who died from COVID-19 sued the retailer on April 6, and lawyers for the family called it the first wrongful death lawsuit against an employer stemming from the crisis. The lawsuit alleged the Chicago store where Wando Evans worked was not properly cleaned and staff were not given masks.

Walmart has said it conducted deep-cleaning of key areas of the store, which passed a health department review.

Reporting by Tom Hals in Wilmington, Delaware; Editing by Noeleen Walder and Howard Goller