A former employee at a JBS USA facility in Cactus, Texas, has won a workers’ compensation case after contracting COVID-19 while working at the facility. Jose Tovar caught the Coronavirus in April 2020 and was unable to work for three weeks, according to Amarillo Globe-News.

JBS’ workers’ compensation insurer, American Zurich Insurance Co., denied Tovar's claim for lost wages. A state administrative law judge in Amarillo last month ordered JBS's insurer to pay damages to Tovar, who is represented by Texas RioGrande Legal Aid. The judge found that Tovar had contracted COVID-19 at the JBS plant, where he worked close by others who were infected.

The decision is final. JBS did not appeal by the May 18 deadline. 

Tovar said he hopes his case is a beacon for other workers. “It was terrifying working in a facility where people were getting sick all around, and the company would not cover our expenses,” he said. “I am happy that a judge found that JBS's insurance company needed to be held accountable for what happened to me, and I hope they will be held accountable for the many other workers who became seriously ill at the JBS plant.”

According to TRLA, Dr. Melissa Perry, an epidemiologist from George Washington University who has extensively researched the meatpacking industry, testified that it was likely that Tovar contracted COVID-19 due to crowding on the assembly line and in the locker room. The risk of disease was high in the plant and extremely low in Tovar's day-to-day interactions outside of work. 

By June 2020, Dr. Perry testified, close to one-third of the employees were documented as infected with COVID-19. Dr. Perry's testimony, the judge found, was “persuasive” that Tovar “could reasonably only have been infected at work.” 

Source: Texas RioGrande Legal Aid