A 34-year-old man died after he overheated while working at a UPS warehouse in Fort Worth in 2017, a lawsuit alleges. His family filed the suit against UPS on July 26, saying his death was preventable and UPS knew conditions inside the facility were dangerous.
Elliot Brown was proud to work at UPS. He started as a pre-loader in September 2015 at 1300 East Northside Drive and took his job seriously, his parents, David and Laura Brown, said.
On July 27, 2017, Elliot Brown started to feel sick. It was about 80 degrees outside, and the warehouse had no air conditioning. His job was to pick packages off the package flow line and that morning, there were problems with the conveyor. Fans were blowing in the facility, but Brown and coworkers were drenched with sweat by 6 a.m., according to employee interviews in an OSHA investigative report.
Elliot Brown told coworkers and his supervisor that he was not feeling well and his chest hurt, according to the lawsuit. His supervisor told him that he could not go home because they were already behind, according to the suit and statements employees made to OSHA.
At 6:11 a.m., the conveyor backed up and an employee went back to check on Brown and see what was going on. He saw Brown lying on the ground, unresponsive. At 7:20 a.m., three hours after starting his shift that morning, Elliot Brown was pronounced dead.
The Medical Examiner’s Office determined Elliot Brown’s cause of death was heart disease. The OSHA report said that according to the autopsy Elliot Brown died from natural causes, citing a history of diabetes and hypertensive cardiovascular disease.
The Browns were devastated but at first thought of their son’s death as a tragic accident. However, after receiving the OSHA report, they said their son’s death could have been prevented because he had asked to leave.
“I mean, it just kind of broke my heart at Christmas time when we got that thing,” David Brown said about the investigative report. “They should have known that something was wrong. You know, instead of him just dying, we have this picture of him suffering before he died and that just kills me.”
In response to the Browns’ lawsuit, which was filed in Tarrant County district court, UPS said the medical examiner’s report of Elliot Brown’s death does not support his family’s allegations.
“The examiner’s report clearly noted pre-existing medical conditions,” the company said in a statement.
Elliot Brown was diagnosed with diabetes, but his parents said he did not need to take insulin and his condition had improved since he started exercising and eating better. They said his diabetes had nothing to do with his death, but even if it did, UPS had a responsibility to care for all employees — especially those with known medical conditions.
The family’s lawyer, Josh Norrell, said Elliot Brown’s heart failure could have been due to heat stroke.
His family also said the facility worked employees too hard — not giving them long enough breaks, not providing enough fans and even turning off the air conditioning in the warehouse bathroom so employees wouldn’t take breaks there.
UPS sent the following statement in response to the Brown family’s allegations:
“UPS highly values all of our employees, and their health, safety and wellness are a priority.
If an employee ever feels ill for any reason, we encourage them to stop what they are doing and notify their management. We never want them to continue working to the point that they risk their health or work in an unsafe manner.”
UPS again expresses its deepest condolences to Mr. Brown’s family, but their allegations are without merit. The medical examiner’s report clearly noted pre-existing medical conditions, and did not list heat-related stress or illness as the cause of Mr. Brown’s passing. Additionally, OSHA immediately conducted an investigation following Mr. Brown’s passing and found that the incident was not work related.
UPS strongly denies the family’s accusations about working conditions and that air conditioning in the restrooms was turned off.
UPS values our employees and never wants them to continue working to the point that they risk their health or safety.”
Demanding change at UPS
Elliot Brown was a force of energy. He loved sports and playing pool, made his parents laugh with his antics and was well-liked wherever he went, his parents said. Laura Brown said he used to point through the window of the car at the moon and tell her, “it’s following me!”
He was also known for taking care of people — whether it was putting together his mother’s dialysis machine or helping a stranger on the side of the road.
David Brown picked up his son’s work uniform at the funeral home a few days after he died. The clothes — which Elliot Brown was wearing when he died — were still soaking with sweat, David Brown said.
“That’s how hot it is in there,” he said.
David Brown said his son often talked about how hot it was inside the warehouse. He would get home covered in sweat and too tired to open the door, his mom said.
“He would come home and say, they took another out today in an ambulance,” Laura Brown said. “It was smothering.”
From 2015 to 2017, nine people at the Northside Drive facility suffered from heat exhaustion or heat-related illness, according to the OSHA investigation into Elliot Brown’s death. Their symptoms ranged from muscle cramps to kidney failure.
OSHA initially fined UPS $12,675 for not reporting Elliot Brown’s death within eight hours, but withdrew the fine when UPS agreed to have training on reporting deaths in the workplace. A manager said he did not report Elliot Brown’s death because he did not think it was work-related, the OSHA report said.
In 2016, UPS lost a lawsuit brought by the family of a man who died from heat stroke in Houston. Nathaniel Seth Cooper died in 2005 in the packing area of a UPS worksite where there was no air conditioning. A jury ruled for UPS to pay the family $1 million in damages.
The Brown family said UPS has not made an effort to improve working conditions despite knowing the dangers and wants the company to take action to protect workers.
“Nothing is going to bring Elliot back. But maybe somebody else can be saved from being put into those conditions,” David Brown said. “Most people’s bodies are not made to put up with that kind of heat. Mainly, it may bring attention to the working conditions and maybe some other family won’t have to go through this and lose their child or dad.”