The Amazon Warehouse Tragedy

ELI5: Negligence

Six people tragically lost their lives when a tornado in Illinois tore the roof off of an Amazon warehouse. Immediately following the tornado, reports began to come out telling of supervisors mandating a shelter-in-place, Amazon’s lack of safety procedures, and OSHA investigations. Regardless of what the OSHA investigation reveals, those with experience in the legal field are almost certain that personal injury claims against Amazon are not far off. This has left many wondering, is Amazon liable for the death or injury of the workers in the Illinois facility? Let’s ask a Workplace Injury Lawyer.


A lot of people believe it was inappropriate for the supervisors to tell employees that they could not leave the warehouse to go home. However, for the supervisors to be found liable, the plaintiffs would need to prove that the supervisors were acting unreasonably when they told workers that they needed to stay on the premises. This could be a problem for the plaintiffs because the defendant could very well argue that it would be unreasonable to allow employees to leave the premises when they know there’s a tornado outside. If the reverse happened, and the supervisors told everyone to go home because of the tornado, the supervisors may be liable if workers were killed or injured on their way home from the warehouse. This is because the supervisors knew, or reasonably should have known, that there was a tornado coming and allowing workers to get into their cars and drive home poses a risk. In spite of the unfortunate end result of this incident, it may have been reasonable to believe that the workers were safer in the warehouse than anywhere else.


A good personal injury lawyer would probably check to see if the building was built to code. If it turns out that the building was not built to code, liability may be apportioned across several parties. First, Amazon would be liable because they purchased, or constructed, a building that was not properly built. The city in which Amazon’s warehouse was constructed may also be liable for allowing a building that doesn’t meet their standards to be erected. Finally, the building inspector could be found liable if there were flaws that should have been discovered or if the building wasn’t built to code. However, if the building was built properly, the aforementioned parties would not likely be found liable for the building’s collapse.


Most companies have safety procedures in place for relevant emergency situations. For example, many schools have specific safety procedures for fires since fires are a risk no matter where you are. However, many schools in the Midwest also have set protocols for tornados too, since those are common in the area. Given the Amazon warehouse’s location, it could be argued that Amazon should have had safety guidelines in place in the event of a tornado. If Amazon had those guidelines, and they were not followed, Amazon may be more likely to be found liable for the death and injury of their workers. Not having safety procedures for a tornado at all, in an area with substantial tornado risk, could also increase Amazon’s liability.


In tragedies such as the collapse of an Amazon warehouse, undoing the pain that comes from the loss of a loved one is an impossible task. Regardless of who is liable in this tragedy, six families spent their first Christmas without a loved one. And, many more of Amazon’s employees have been injured in this disaster. Right now, our thoughts are with the families of the victims. By increasing awareness of the need for emergency safety protocols, and pushing for better preparation for foreseeable circumstances, we can help prevent deaths during natural disasters in the future.

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