WASHINGTON, September 30, 2014 – It’s Tracy Morgan’s fault is Walmart’s defense to a suit filed in the U.S District Court in New Jersey July by the 30 Rock star. Morgan suffered a broken leg and ribs in accident, leaving him in critical condition. Morgan is still in rehabilitation following the accident.
Beloved comedian, and close friend of Morgan, James McNair, aka, Jimmy Mack, aged 62, was killed in the accident.
Morgan’s suit [NJ Court Suit Morgan] seeks a jury trial and punitive and compensatory damages claiming the retail giant should have known that its truck driver, Kevin Roper of Jonesboro, Georgia, had been awake for more than 24 hours before the crash that involved six-car on the New Jersey Turnpike on June 7, 2014.
The suite alleges:
“Walmart knew, or should have known, that Mr. Roper’s hours were not in compliance with Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (“F.M.S.C.A.”) Regulations which were enacted largely to combat the dangers of driver fatigue.”
The suit also alleges that the retailer should have been aware the drivers commute of 700 miles from his home in Georgia to work in Delaware was “unreasonable.”
“Walmart knew or should have known that it was unreasonable for Mr. Roper to commute more than 700 miles from his home in Jonesboro, Georgia to work at a Wal-Mart facility in Smyrna, Delaware, especially immediately before he was to commence a long shift operating a truck that weighed approximately 30±40 tons.
Additionally, there were many Walmart distribution facilities closer to Mr. Roper’s home, including at least nine in Georgia which would have significantly reduced Mr. Roper’s commute to work.”
The suit claims the accident happened as a result of the driver falling asleep at the wheel at speeds in excess of 65 mph and that the truck’s automatic braking system failed to work as designed.
Following the accident Roper pleaded not guilty to death by auto and assault by auto charges in state court. The criminal complaint accuses Roper of not sleeping for more than 24 hours before the crash, a violation of New Jersey law.
A report by federal transportation safety investigators said Roper was driving 65 mph in the minute before he slammed into the limo van. The speed limit on that stretch of the New Jersey Turnpike is 55 mph and was lowered to 45 mph that night because of construction.
Roper had been on the job about 13 1/2 hours at the time of the crash, the report concluded.
Federal rules permit truck drivers to work up to 14 hours a day, with a maximum of 11 hours behind the wheel.
Papers filed by Walmart say that Morgan’s failure to wear a seat belt created his own suffering when the crash occurred on June 7.
Denying any responsibility for the auto accident Walmart says Morgan’s claim that the crash came from their negligence.
“Upon information and belief, plaintiffs’ injuries, if any, were caused, in whole or in part, by plaintiffs’ failure to properly wear an appropriate available seatbelt restraint device,” Walmart’s court papers said.
Morgan failed to “exercise ordinary care in making use of available seatbelts … and acted unreasonably and in disregard of plaintiffs’ own best interests,” Walmart alleges.
The retail giant argues it does not owe any punitive damages to Morgan because he was negligent in failing to wear his seatbelt, a law in New Jersey.
Walmart’s defense also disputes the negligence claim stating that “actions were proximately caused by the company and its agents” and disputing that Walmart had any control over third parties who may have caused damages.
Walmart claims it owes no duty to the plaintiffs.
Morgan’s attorney says that Walmart’s response is “surprising and appalling.”
“It’s disingenuous,” attorney Benedict Morelli says. “It’s not what they said they were going to do initially, which was take full responsibility. I’m very upset, not for myself but for the families I represent.”
Morelli claims that Wal-Mart is aware of the unreasonable demands on its drives that “creates a culture in which drivers are often awake for extended periods of time due to long commutes.”
“[Roper] works for Walmart, and I’m going to show, if I have to in court, that that’s the culture, that that’s what they set up,” Morelli said. “They know and, by the way, he isn’t the only driver that drives hundreds of miles to get to work. They have to make sure that this doesn’t happen.”
Walmart claims it has cooperated fully in the investigations, which Morelli denies.
Comedian Ardley Fuqua and Jeffrey Millea, who were passengers in the limo each suffering multiple fractures and injuries, were also named as plaintiffs in Morgan’s suit as was Krista Millea.