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Walmart Points Finger at Tracy Morgan for Not Wearing Seatbelt

Tracy Morgan Lawsuit

On Tuesday evening, Walmart formally responded to a personal injury lawsuit filed in June in a New Jersey Federal Court by actor/comedian Tracy Morgan and three of his business associates. The suit seeks compensation for injuries Mr. Morgan and his fellow passengers suffered in the deadly six-vehicle crash that took place at approximately 1 a.m. on June 7, 2014 on the New Jersey Turnpike near Cranbury.

Mr. Morgan, his assistant Jeffrey Millea, his assistant’s wife, Krista Millea and comedians James McNair and Ardie Fuqua were all riding as passengers onboard a limo bus on the way back from an event at the Dover Downs Hotel & Casino in Delaware when they were rear-ended by a Walmart 18-wheeler driven by Mr. Kevin Roper. Tragically, in addition to seriously injuring Mr. Morgan, Mr. Fuqua and Mr. and Mrs. Millea, the wreck also resulted in the death of Mr. Morgan’s close friend and long-time collaborator, comedian James McNair.

In its answer, Walmart blamed Mr. Morgan and the other passengers for not wearing their seat belts during the crash, ultimately contributing to the cause of their own injuries, according to the Hollywood Reporter. In fact, Walmart asserted a total of 9 affirmative defenses in its answer, including the claim that the Plaintiffs’ injuries “were caused, in whole or in part, by plaintiffs’ failure to properly wear an appropriate available seatbelt restraint device.” Essentially, Walmart is attempting to shift the blame for the injuries to Mr. Morgan and the rest of the victims for “failing to mitigate their losses”, or in other words, not taking reasonable precautions to limit the extent of their injuries by not buckling up.

Unfortunately for Walmart, the evidence is not in its favor. Before Walmart’s driver, Mr. Roper, started his shift that day, he had already commuted a distance of over 700 miles from his home in Jonesboro, Georgia, to a Walmart facility in Smyrna, Delaware. In fact, according to investigators, Mr. Roper appeared to have been awake for a period of 24 consecutive hours at the time the wreck occurred. That’s one full day without any sleep whatsoever, in blatant violation of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations. This critical piece of evidence could potentially open the door to a finding of gross negligence on the part of Walmart and could even lead to a large punitive damage award.

The problem of commercial drivers choosing to drive while fatigued is not a new one. Many companies pressure their drivers to drive as far and as fast as they can during any given trip in order to maximize profit. While no one disputes that time is money, shortcuts that endanger human lives are never acceptable risks to take.