Nursing homes across the country deal with COVID-19 outbreaks, including nursing homes in Texas. The family of a nursing assistant has filed a lawsuit against his employer after he died from COVID-19 on April 17, 2020. The family of Maurice Dotson filed the lawsuit in Travis County.

The lawsuit names Regency Integrated Health Services as a defendant. Maurice Dotson worked at the West Oaks Nursing and Rehabilitation Center in Austin, which is owned and operated by Regency. Regency owns dozens of facilities throughout Texas.

A Tragic Death After 25 Years of Service

Maurice Dotson worked for West Oaks for 25 years as a certified nursing assistant. According to the wrongful death lawsuit, Dotson continued to work at the nursing home after the coronavirus outbreak.

Sometime around April 3, Dotson became ill and went to St. David’s South Austin Medical Center for treatment. Dotson’s health continued to decline, even after his discharge.

On April 9, loved ones claim that the healthy 51-year-old posted on Facebook that he felt sick. Dotson called for medical help and was transported to St. David’s South Austin Medical Center by ambulance.

Early on Friday, April 17, Dotson became what is believed to be the first health care worker to die from the coronavirus in Austin. Reports state that Dotson died from CVOID-19 pneumonia and severe respiratory distress.

Dotson died at the hospital without any family or friends by his side. Because of COVID-19 restrictions at hospitals, none of his family was with him when he died. According to one news source, his mother is heartbroken.

Various news outlets have reported that co-workers, family, and friends spoke of his dedication to his job. Some individuals related stories about how devoted he was to the patients he cared for at the nursing home. Dotson updated his Facebook page on March 19 to state, “I can’t stay home… I’m a health care worker.”

Allegations to Negligence and Failure to Protect Workers

The wrongful death lawsuit raises several issues about adequate protection for employees during the pandemic. Dotson’s family claims that Regency valued profits over the safety of employees and patients. Specifically, the complaint alleges that the facility failed to provide PPE (personal protective equipment).

By failing to provide adequate PPE to staff members, the facility exposed the staff members and patients to COVID-19, which resulted in risks of serious harm. The failure to provide PPE is alleged to have contributed to Dotson’s untimely death.

The lawsuit also alleges that on or around March 26, 2020, that the Texas Health and Human Services conducted a surprise inspection at West Oaks. The complaint alleges that the facility received several citations for PPE violations.

Dotson’s family claims that Regency knew or should have known about the risks of COVID-19 and the imminent threat the virus caused for patients and staff, but did nothing to protect them.

The lawsuit is seeking $1 million in monetary relief. Regency said that it could not comment on pending litigation, but expressed its sadness of the death of a staff member.

COVID-19 and Nursing Homes

Many states took steps to protect nursing homes and long-term care facilities from lawsuits by patients and employees. The nursing home industry is pushing for all states to grant immunity from lawsuits related to COVID-19. However, COVID-19 lawsuits are beginning to be filed in several states.

Under Texas workers’ compensation law, an employee may be entitled to workers’ compensation benefits for a work-related illness. If the employer has workers’ compensation coverage, the employee cannot sue the employer except in cases of gross negligence or intentional acts.

The lawsuit filed by Dotson’s family is a wrongful death lawsuit. It is unclear how Regency plans to fight the allegations in the lawsuit. It could claim that the illness was work-related, so workers’ compensation laws prohibit the cause of action.

However, that defense choice could set up a precedent for nursing home employees and other employees in Austin to file workers’ comp claims if they become ill from COVID-19 at work. Regency may decide to fight the allegations by claiming that it took all reasonable measures to protect employees from their risks associated with COVID-19.

Texas could grant immunity to nursing homes and long-term care facilities, which could result in the wrongful death lawsuit being dismissed without a trial. It is unknown at this time whether lawmakers or the governor could side with the nursing home industry.

Plaintiff’s Attorneys Are Monitoring COVID-19 Lawsuits

Attorneys who handle personal injury claims, workers’ comp claims, and wrongful death claims are watching this case and other COVID-19 lawsuits to see how the cases proceed.