Charles H. Cole Wins Summary Judgment in Amazon Negligence Case

Charles H. Cole

Charles H. Cole, partner in the Chicago office of Lewis Brisbois Bisgaard & Smith LLP and a member of the Medical Malpractice Department, has won a summary judgment for Amazon in a negligence case against the e-commerce giant.

In a written opinion, U.S. District Judge Jorge L. Alonso of the Northern District of Illinois dismissed Linda Becker’s claims against Services, Inc. Alonso held that negligence is not sufficiently established because the claims do not “prove the existence of a duty owed by the defendant, a breach of that duty, and injury proximately resulting from that breach.”

The late Thomas Becker was employed by C&W Services, which provided services to Amazon at its Joliet facility. On January 23, 2017, Becker and a few other C&W employees were in the “shop cage” area of the Amazon facility when Becker had a heart attack. Two C&W employees radioed AmCare, an onsite medical clinic at the Joliet facility. The call to AmCare was received by Amazon safety specialist Joey Gutierrez. Gutierrez told Ruben Espinosa, the onsite medical specialist for AmCare during the incident, that he needed to go to the shop cage because someone might be having a seizure, the parties say. Espinosa did not take an AED with him, according to the parties. When he arrived at the scene, Becker was unconscious on the floor. Espinosa performed CPR, which did not change Becker’s condition. Espinosa connected the AED that one of the C&W employees had retrieved, but the AED detected asystole, or an absence of cardiac activity, and advised not to apply a shock. Espinosa continued CPR until the paramedics arrived. Becker was transported to the nearest hospital, where he was pronounced dead. His cause of death was acute myocardial infarction due to high cholesterol.

Becker’s wife, Linda, claims Amazon had a duty to perform CPR, utilize an AED and call paramedics. Amazon argues it had no duty to utilize an AED. Because Becker was an employee of a third party, Amazon argues it only owed a duty of first aid, which does not extend to utilizing an AED.

Alonso noted that courts outside of Illinois agree that there is no common-law duty to use an AED on a business invitee. “A common understanding of ‘first aid’ does not encompass the use of an oxygen tank or AED any more than it encompasses an intubation kit. Rather, ‘first aid,’ involves simple procedures that can be performed with minimal equipment and training, such as bandaging and repositioning,” Alonso wrote, citing Abramson v. Ritz Carlton Hotel Co, LLC, 480 Fed. Appx. 158, 162 (3rd Cir. 2012). Alonso held that Amazon had no duty to use an AED on Becker, further noting it could not have breached that duty by not using the AED quickly enough. “Under plaintiff’s theory, Becker might have survived had Espinosa used an AED on Becker sooner. Plaintiff wants to hold defendant liable, because Espinosa failed to use the AED quickly enough. This argument fails, because, as the Court has already concluded, defendant had no duty to use an AED,” Alonso wrote. Without a duty, there can be no negligence, Alonso said, citing Washington v. City of Chicago, 188 Ill.2d 235, 239 (Ill. 1999).

The parties also disputed how quickly Espinosa made the request to call 911 after reaching Becker. But Alonso held that Becker has not created a jury issue on whether a delay in calling 911 proximately caused Becker’s injury. Amazon was granted summary judgment and the civil case was terminated.

The case is Becker v. Services, Inc.

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