ST. CHARLES – The family of a woman who died after contracting COVID-19 from her husband filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the North Aurora meat packing plant where he worked as a butcher, alleging that it was negligent in failing to take action to stop the spread of the virus.
The lawsuit was filed Aug. 5 in Kane County by Bridget Duignan of the Chicago law firm of Latherow & Duignan, on behalf of Erika Iniguez, daughter of Esperanza Ugalde, 67, who died of the novel coronavirus on May 2. It seeks more than $50,000 in damages and a jury trial.
“By all accounts, she was sweet and loved by many,” Duignan said of Esperanza Ugalde. “There were minimum things that these companies could do to keep their employees safe – whether it was money or a time thing or both – they just don’t do it. It puts people’s lives in danger and worse than that.”
The lawsuit alleges that Aurora Packing Company, 125 S. Grant St., North Aurora, “was aware that other employees within the meat packing facility had become infected with COVID-19 but took no measures to mitigate the spread of the virus within its facility despite the known health effects of the virus.”
A voicemail message seeking comment from the company's chief financial officer, Don Tanis, was not immediately returned Tuesday, but the company has touted the safety initiatives its undertaken on its website.
Ricardo Ugalde, a butcher at the plant, contracted coronavirus on or about April 28 while working there, according to the lawsuit.
His wife, Esperanza Ugalde, contracted the virus from him and died of it, the lawsuit stated. Esperanza Ugalde was a stay-at-home wife, the lawsuit stated.
Ricardo Ugalde worked as a butcher at the plant for 35 years, and on a daily basis “stood shoulder-to-shoulder with his co-employees in a processing line and sat shoulder-to-shoulder with his co-employees during their lunch break,” the lawsuit stated.
Aurora Packing failed to warn employees about the virus and failed to implement any plan as detailed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention or the Illinois Department of Public Health to mitigate the spread of the virus, the lawsuit alleged.
The company also failed to clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces, to provide personal protective equipment or take reasonable measures – such as slowing down the processing line to allow for social distancing, the lawsuit alleged.
The company’s negligence led directly to Esperanza Ugalde’s death, leaving behind her husband and three children, the lawsuit alleged.
The company said on its website states that it took various steps in response to COVID-19: "Aurora Packing Company takes pride in the various safety programs in place that are designed to protect our employees. In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, we have taken a proactive approach to minimize the health risk of spreading the virus. Aurora Packing Company is committed to provide a safe workplace for everyone. We will continue to monitor the situation and update our COVID-19 Response, as necessary."
Aurora Packing Company was among North American meat packing plants listed in April 13 reports as closing temporarily due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Duignan said she is in contact with a former employee of Aurora Packing who said he had complained about working conditions and lack of personal protective equipment.
“Although Aurora Packing did close the plant for deep cleaning, there was no deep cleaning that he knows of,” Duignan said. “He will be a witness in my case.”
The first court appearance in the case is scheduled for Oct. 20.