Comedian Tracy Morgan has filed a lawsuit against Walmart following a crash last month on the New Jersey Turnpike in which he was severely injured, while James McNair, a comedian known as Jimmy Mack was killed and two others were hurt.
The suit, filed U.S. District Court in New Jersey, seeks both compensatory and punitive damages, says Walmart was negligent in the ownership and operation of its truck, which was a “substantial contributing factor” in the crash on June 7, according to the New York Times. "The defendants “negligence was a substantial contributing factor in causing plaintiffs' injuries," the complaint states.
Two others hurt in the crash, when the tractor-trailer slammed into Morgan’s chauffeured limo van, are also listed as plaintiffs in the suit. Morgan has since been released from a rehabilitation facility following a lengthy hospital stay for broken ribs, a broken nose and a broken leg and is expected to continue his recovery at home.
In a statement released by Walmart it said the crash was a “terrible tragedy” and it hoped the three men would have a full recovery. “We are deeply sorry that one of our trucks was involved,” the statement said. “As we’ve said, we’re cooperating fully in the ongoing investigation. We know it will take some time to resolve all of the remaining issues as a result of the accident, but we’re committed to doing the right thing for all involved.”
Prosecutors have charged the truck driver, Kevin Roper of Georgia, with one count of death by auto and four counts of assault by auto in the wreck. He entered a not guilty plea earlier. They claim he had not slept in more than 24 hours, a violation of New Jersey law, but have not said how they made such a determination. Roper has pleaded not guilty.
A National Transportation Safety Board report said Roper was driving 65 mph in the 60 seconds before he slammed into the limo van. The speed limit on that stretch of the turnpike is 55 mph and was lowered to 45 mph that night because of construction. It also determined he was in compliance with federal hours of service regulations.
The suit claims had been working for more than 25 hours straight following a 700-mile commute, in violation of federal regulations, according to BusinessInsurance.com. It charges also that the retailer should have known it was unreasonable for the driver to commute more than 700 miles from his home in Jonesboro, Ga., before starting his shift at a Wal-Mart facility in Smyrna, Del., “especially immediately before he was to commence a long shift operating a truck that weighed approximately 30-40 tons.”
The crash happened just days after a U.S. Senate committee approved legislation suspending the current 34-hour restart provision to federal hours of service rules for truck drivers, however the crash has likely doomed prospects for the proposal to advance any further, at least in the near-term.