Amazon, builders sued by delivery drivers over warehouse collapse during deadly tornado; Family of deceased driver Deandre Morrow among the plaintiffs

Two new lawsuits were filed in Madison County Circuit Court against Amazon and the engineering and design companies that participated in the construction of the Edwardsville distribution center that partially collapsed during a deadly EF-3 tornado on Dec. 10.

Attorneys Patrick King of MillerKing LLC in Alton and Benjamin O’Connor of Hilliard Martinez Gonzales LLP in Corpus Christi, Texas, filed the lawsuits on April 19. One lawsuit was filed on behalf of the family of deceased driver Deandre Morrow. The other was filed on behalf of injured delivery drivers Jamarco Hickman, Evan Jensen, Jada Williams and Deontae Yancey.

The lawsuits name Inc., Amazon Logistics Inc., Contegra Construction Company, Tristar Properties LLC, Stock & Associates Consulting Engineers Inc., Gray Design Group Inc., and McNealy Engineering Inc. as defendants.

Six individuals were killed at the Amazon fulfillment center when the tornado struck the building at 8:28 p.m. weeks before Christmas with winds reaching speeds of 150 mph. The tornado caused a portion of the building’s roof to collapse and leveled parts of the facility.

Deandre Morrow, 28, of Belleville, was one of the six who were killed at the facility. His mother, Deon January, filed a lawsuit as independent administrator of his estate.

According to the complaint, Morrow worked for AB&C Dad Inc., an Amazon distribution service provider, to provide delivery services out of the Edwardsville facility.

Morrow had the day off but was called from dispatch at 9:12 a.m. asking him to work an extra shift. He was allegedly working extra shifts and overtime in order to earn extra money for the holiday season and to repay January for a car that she purchased for him.

Morrow’s shift was scheduled between 9:30 a.m. and 5 p.m. The suit states that he contacted January at around 1:40 p.m. and his girlfriend at around 4:11 p.m.

“At this time, it is unknown where DeAndre Morrow was located at within the facility at the time of the storm, but it is known that he was present at the facility long after his shift was scheduled to end,” the suit states.

The lawsuit suggests Morrow may have worked late to “rescue” a fellow driver who had not completed their deliveries. To “rescue” the other driver means to help them finish delivering their packages.

“Mr. Morrow died as a result of his thoracic cavity being crushed by the Amazon walls around him,” the suit states.

Hickman alleges in his complaint that he was employed by XSeed Inc. as a delivery driver for Amazon. His shift was scheduled between 9 a.m. and 8:30 p.m. The suit states that he sent a text message to his manager at approximately 7 p.m. asking to return to the warehouse. He arrived at the Edwardsville facility at about 8 p.m. and then attempted to leave the warehouse before the storm hit but was allegedly threatened with termination.

He remained at the warehouse and was allegedly directed to take shelter in the break room. He claims he believes he would have made it to his Alton residence if he would have been allowed to leave the warehouse.

Williams was also employed by XSeed as a delivery driver. Her shift was scheduled between 9 a.m. and 8:30 p.m. She claims she was directed to take shelter in a bathroom on the north end of the warehouse at the time of the storm.

Williams alleges she attempted to leave the warehouse to return to her Glen Carbon home before the storm hit but was threatened with termination by a warehouse official if she left.

Yancey was employed as a delivery driver by XSeed and had a shift scheduled between 10 a.m. and 9 p.m. He claims that at 6:32 p.m. he received a message from Nikita Sunil via the Amazon Flex App requesting that he “rescue” a fellow driver. Fearful of the approaching storm, he refused.

Yancey claims he was then directed to take shelter in a bathroom on the north end of the warehouse. He allegedly attempted to leave before the storm to return to his Godfrey home but was told to “stay put and not to leave” by warehouse officials.

Hickman, of Godfrey, was employed as a delivery driver by AB&C Dad Inc. and was working a shift scheduled between 9:30 a.m. and 8:30 p.m.

He claims that at approximately 7:40 p.m., he finished a “rescue” of a fellow driver and requested to return to the warehouse because the sky was getting darker ahead of the storm. He returned at approximately 8:15 p.m. He claims he was immediately instructed to park his delivery van and go to the restrooms for shelter, where he remained until emergency medical services arrived following the storm.

The suits allege Amazon is liable for the delivery drivers’ injuries because they completed training provided by the defendant and were closely monitored and controlled by Amazon.

“The nature of the work performed by drivers was similar and standardized at each Amazon delivery station and was centrally controlled and directed by Amazon.

“Amazon controlled the drivers’ day-to-day activities through direct contact with them.

“Amazon set the delivery routes and then assigned and provided them to its DSPs. Every week, Amazon sent the DSPs, the number, type, and start time for the delivery routes for the upcoming week,” the suit states.

The plaintiffs allege Amazon was warned by the National Weather Service of possible tornadoes at least 36 hours before the warehouse was struck. They claim Amazon failed to modify the employee or contractor work schedule and refused to permit them from taking time off until the storm passed. Amazon allegedly received additional tornado warnings between 8:06 p.m. and 8:16 p.m.

“Defendant Amazon inadequately responded by warning only a portion of the employees and instructing them to retreat into the warehouse restrooms for safety,” the suit states.

The 150 mph winds “ripped off the roof of the warehouse and caused 11-inch thick concrete walls to fall in on themselves.”

The suit states that in a similar situation, 14 employees died at an Amazon facility in September 2021 when the defendant allegedly “ignored similar warnings by the National Weather Service of the oncoming tropical depression ‘Ida.’”

According to an April 26 report by the U.S. Occupational Health and Safety Administration, the emergency procedures at Amazon’s Edwardsville warehouse met minimal safety guidelines.

Contegra Construction Company is named a defendant for its construction and development work on the facility.

Tristar Properties was the developer of the Edwardsville warehouse.

Stock & Associates is a civil engineering and land surveying firm. It allegedly provided construction specifications, shop drawings and engineering specifications for the build.

Gray Design Group is named a defendant for its work as the master planning, design and architectural firm for Amazon’s facility.

McNealy Engineering is a structural engineering firm and provided architectural restoration, structural engineering and architectural engineering services for Amazon’s warehouse.

The defendants are accused of negligently building the facility in a “tilt-up” manner and without a basement or safe room shelter. The suit states that the defendants should have known that “tilt-up” construction “causes walls to fall when struck with high winds and knew that Edwardsville, Illinois was prone to inclement, severe weather and tornadoes.”

This article was first published in Madison Record.

Leave a Reply