Craig Franken was the second slaughterhouse worker to die of coronavirus in the first big surge of the pandemic at Smithfield Foods in Sioux Falls in April 2020. His widow, Karen Franken, thought maybe Smithfield ought to pay some worker’s comp for the loss she suffered due to Smithfield’s cavalier attitude toward pandemic prevention.
Luckily for Smithfield, South Dakota law says otherwise:
Second Circuit Judge Jon Sogn sided with Smithfield Foods in the case, which originated as a claim for death benefits through the South Dakota Department of Labor (DOL).
The DOL denied the claim, citing a 2021 law offering blanket immunity from liability to employers, schools and establishment owners for any claims tied to COVID-19 unless the claim involved intentional exposure to the virus.
…Franken had also argued that the law was unconstitutional for denying due process rights, and that lawmakers didn’t intend to bar worker’s compensation claims.
Lawyers for Smithfield, meanwhile, argued that the South Dakota liability waiver covers both lawsuits and worker’s compensation claims, which are dealt with in a separate chapter of South Dakota law and classified as “administrative special proceedings.”
They also argued that the COVID-19 infection ought not be classified as a workplace injury for insurance purposes, that Franken failed to give proper notice of the constitutional challenge to the South Dakota Attorney General’s Office, and that the retroactivity of the 2021 law was clear [John Hult, “Judge Rules Against Widow in Covid-19 Worker’s Comp Case,” South Dakota Searchlight, 2022.11.29].
The retroactive law in question, 2021 House Bill 1046, passed with bipartisan support, including that of Democratic Representatives Jamie Smith and Linda Duba from District 15, which includes the Smithfield slaughterhouse. District 15 Democratic Senator Reynold Nesiba opposed 2021 HB 1046.