The parents of Austin McEwen, one of the six victims killed after a tornado pummeled an Amazon warehouse in Edwardsville, Illinois, last month, said Monday during a press conference that they are suing Amazon over the alleged wrongful death of their son.
McEwen’s parents allege that the e-commerce giant, as well as a construction company and real estate developer associated with the facility that experienced significant structural damage after it was struck by an EF-3 tornado on December 10, 2021, failed to exercise reasonable care to protect workers like their son from sustaining injuries or death.
McEwen, 26, who worked as an independent contractor making deliveries for Amazon (AMZN), sought shelter in a bathroom at the facility, according to a copy of the lawsuit provided by Clifford Law Offices, which is representing the McEwens.
During the press conference, held over Zoom, Alice McEwen, Austin’s mother and the administrator of his estate, said Amazon opted not to evacuate workers from the facility in a timely manner as it sought to keep them fulfilling orders.
“It appears that Amazon placed profits first during this holiday season instead of the safety of our son and the other five families who lost loved ones,” she said.
In a statement to CNN Business Monday, Amazon spokesperson Kelly Nantel said the company will defend against the lawsuit while adding that Amazon’s “focus continues to be on supporting our employees and partners, the families who lost loved ones, the surrounding community, and all those affected by the tornadoes.”
Nantel said the “lawsuit misunderstands key facts, such as the difference between various types of severe weather and tornado alerts, as well as the condition and safety of the building.” She also noted that while severe weather watches are common in the area, it is not typical for businesses to shut down operations in anticipation of severe storms.
Asked whether some workers like McEwen were directed to seek shelter in a bathroom, Amazon declined to comment beyond its statement.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration opened an investigation into the collapse of the Edwardsville facility last month. OSHA, the federal agency that investigates workplace safety incidents, has six months to complete the investigation.
Jack Casciato, partner at Clifford Law Offices, told CNN Business Monday: “Even as early as December 9, it was very clear that this area of Southwestern Illinois could be at risk of a tornado and the warning intensified throughout the day.”
“The question Amazon will have to answer is: ‘Why were these workers present at this facility?’” Casciato said.