A Southwest Airlines flight attendant has filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the airline, alleging that lax COVID protocols during mandatory training last summer and slack contact tracing after an attendee tested positive led to her husband’s death from the virus.
Carol Madden, a 69-year-old Baltimore-based flight attendant who has worked for Southwest since 2016, is seeking more than $3 million in damages for what the lawsuit says was the airline’s negligence, according to the suit filed in U.S. District Court in Maryland.
She and her husband, Bill, a veteran and retired railroad signal engineer who drove her home from the one-day training session at Baltimore-Washington International Airport in July, got sick days after the training and eventually tested positive for COVID-19. Bill’s oxygen levels plunged, and his health deteriorated so rapidly he couldn’t take his own temperature. He died a few weeks later in a York, Pennsylvania, hospital, with COVID pneumonia listed as the first cause of death. He was 73.
Madden, a cancer survivor who stayed on the job throughout the pandemic, told USA TODAY she “firmly believes my husband would still be here” if Southwest had applied the same strict safety protocols for employees as it does for passengers. It even coined a term for the latter, the Southwest Promise.
“They were cleaning the seats. They were cleaning the air vents. They were cleaning the seat belts. Every touchpoint was cleaned,”‘ she said in an interview Tuesday. “They did not do that in my training last year.”
“I love my airline, but they didn’t love me back.”
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Southwest Airlines filed a motion Friday to dismiss the case. In the filing, the airline expressed its sympathy to Madden and others who have lost family members to COVID-19 but said blaming the airline for his death is “misplaced.”
The airline said it is required to provide a “reasonably safe work environment” for employees but that the “duty of care” responsibility does not extend to spouses or others in the household, even in cases of transmission of diseases at work. The company also said there is no way to know precisely where or when she contracted the coronavirus that causes COVID-19.
“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 of The Mastromarco Firm, said he is preparing a legal response.
From dream job to heartbreak
Madden became a Southwest flight attendant at age 64 after several other careers, including real estate and paralegal services.
“I’ve worn seven hats in my life,” she said. “This was my dream.”
The New York native said she was able to chase her dream because her husband was retired and took care of everything at home and shuttled her to and from the airport. The pair met when she was 12 and he was 17 and were married for 35 years.
“He was a phenomenal man. He had a heart of gold,” she said. “There is nothing and no one that can replace him.”
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