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Southwest Airlines flight attendant sues after husband dies of COVID-19

A Southwest Airlines flight attendant has filed a wrongful death lawsuit against her employer, accusing the company of lax COVID-19 protocols and contact tracing that eventually led to the death of her husband.

Carol Madden, 69, filed the suit in the U.S. District Court in Maryland seeking more than $3 million in damages, USA Today reported.

Madden attended a one-day training session at Baltimore-Washington International Airport on July 13. Her husband, Bill, drove her home from the event.

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The couple got sick days later and later tested positive for COVID-19, according to the lawsuit. His condition quickly deteriorated and he died a few weeks later. COVID pneumonia was listed as the first cause of death.

Bill Madden, a veteran and retired railroad signal engineer, was 73 years old.

"He was a phenomenal man. He had a heart of gold," Madden said of her husband of 35 years. "There is nothing and no one that can replace him."

Madden told USA Today that she "firmly believes my husband would still be here" if Southwest had applied the same safety protocols for employees as it does for passengers.

"They were cleaning the seats. They were cleaning the air vents. They were cleaning the seat belts. Every touchpoint was cleaned,"' she told the outlet. "They did not do that in my training last year.”

The training is mandated by the Federal Aviation Administration and Madden said she was initially signed up for it in April 2020 but it was pushed back to mid-July when the pandemic started.

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According to the complaint, Southwest flight attendants and instructors were not screened for COVID-19 symptoms prior to or during the daylong training. They allegedly were not asked about potential exposure. 

Attendees were required to wear masks but there was no hand sanitizer supplied. Equipment like fire extinguishers and megaphones were allegedly not sanitized between uses. The human-sized dummy used for self-defense training was also not wiped down despite flight attendants’ "extensive physical contact" with it, according to the lawsuit.

Madden, who is a cancer survivor, told USA Today that the trainees were also not able to practice strict social distancing.

"We were at 6-foot tables, folding tables with legs," she said. "You're not 6 feet apart. You're maybe 4 feet or less."

A woman who had participated in the training with Madden tested positive for COVID-19 after returning home from the training.

Madden said she was not informed by the airline or her union, even after reporting the couple’s symptoms on July 23. The Maddens had gotten their COVID-19 tests that day but needed to wait for several more for their results. 

"They told me they would not pay me or they would not take [attendance] points away until I proved that I had COVID," she said.

Madden’s lawsuit states that she could have isolated from her husband early on if Southwest had immediately informed her about her exposure to an infected coworker.

"I was devastated when I found out that the woman that was at the table with me had COVID," she said, adding that she learned about the development on Facebook.

Southwest Airlines filed a motion on Friday to dismiss the case, USA Today reported. While expressing sympathy for Madden’s loss, Southwest argued that the accused blame for Bill Madden’s death is "misplaced."

It is required to provide a "reasonably safe work environment" for employees, but not spouses or other members in their household, the airline claimed. Southwest reportedly argued that it is also impossible to know exactly when Madden contracted the coronavirus.

"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.