Amazon sued by family of employee killed in Illinois tornado warehouse collapse

It claimed the company told people to continue working despite extreme weather warnings.

Lawrence Bryant / reuters

Amazon is being sued by the family of delivery driver Austin McEwan who died in the Edwardsville, Illinois warehouse struck by a tornado last month, CNET has reported. The lawsuit alleges that Amazon was negligent, citing the fact that it told people to keep working through extreme weather warnings. It also makes claims of negligence against contractors who helped build the warehouse.

McEwan was one of six people killed when the warehouse roof was hit by a tornado and collapsed. The family of victim Deandre Morrow has also retained a lawyer. "Sadly, it appears that Amazon placed profits first during this holiday season instead of the safety of our son and the other five," said McEwan's mother, Alice McKewan in a press conference.

"Severe weather watches are common in this part of the country and, while precautions are taken, are not cause for most businesses to close down," Amazon spokesperson Kelly Nantel told CNET in a statement. "We believe our team did the right thing as soon as a warning was issued." The company said that the warehouse was built four years ago in accordance with building code requirements.

Edwardsville is in a region known as Wind Zone IV, a part of the US most at risk from tornadoes. The National Weather Service warned of a tornado threat 36 hours before they struck, and the morning before the storms, it cautioned of the "likely threat" of "damaging winds in excess of 60 mph."

During the same incident, an Amazon dispatcher pressured a driver to deliver packages amid tornado alarms, threatening her with termination. Amazon said that the dispatcher "didn't follow the standard safety practice" and should have directed the driver to seek shelter. Meanwhile, Democrats have pressed Amazon for details on the warehouse deaths, saying in a letter that the incident "fit a larger pattern" of Amazon putting safety at risk "in everyday situations and emergencies alike."