It’s No Laughing Matter: Tracy Morgan Sues Wal-Mart for Deadly Accident
By Frederick H. Lowe
Staff Writer, The NorthStar News & Analysis
Kevin Roper, the Wal-Mart truck driver, whose big rig crashed into a limousine carrying comedian and actor Tracy Morgan, drove 700 miles from his home in Jonesboro, Ga., to a Wal-Mart facility in Smyrna, Del., to immediately begin his shift, according to a lawsuit filed on Thursday in U.S. District Court in New Jersey.
“Mr. Roper’s commute was over 700 miles, which would have taken him over 11 hours if he drove 60 miles per hour,” attorneys for Morgan charged in a civil lawsuit against Wal-Mart Stores Inc. and Wal-Mart Transportation, LLC. Both companies are based in Bentonville, Ark.
Roper’s shift began at 11:22 am on June 6. He was behind the wheel of a Peterbilt tractor trailer on June 7 at 12:54 a.m. when it crashed into the rear of a chauffeur-driven limo carrying Morgan, Ardley Fuqua, Jr., another comedian, Jeffrey Millea, Morgan’s person assistant and Krista Millea, Jeffrey’s pregnant wife. All were injured. The accident killed comedian James McNair, 64, of Peekskill, N.Y.
Morgan, 45, was recently released rehabilitation clinic and he went home in wheelchair with head bandaged. He suffered a broken leg, broken nose and broken ribs in the accident. It is not clear when he will work again. Morgan starred in “30 Rock” and “Saturday Night Live.”
The accident occurred in the northbound lanes of the New Jersey Turnpike near Cranbury, N.J. According to court documents, at milepost 71.4, traffic had slowed due to construction work ahead, reducing the speed limit from 55 miles per hour to 45 miles per hour. Signs were posted approximately .4 miles south of milepost 71.4 warning of the speed reduction, according to the lawsuit.
Instead of slowing down, Roper’s truck was speeding along at 65 miles per hour when it crashed into the rear of Atlantic Transportation Mercedes Sprinter limo that was taking Morgan and the others home after a show at Dover Downs Hotel & Casino in Dover, Del.
After the truck plowed into the limo it crashed into others vehicles causing a multi-car pileup on the Jersey Turnpike.
The lawsuit charges that carelessness by Wal-Mart caused the accident.
“Wal-Mart knew, or should have known, that Mr. Roper’s hours were not in compliance with Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration Regulations, which were enacted to combat the dangers of driver fatigue,” according to the lawsuit. “Wal-Mart knew or should have known that Mr. Roper was awake for more than 24 consecutive hours immediately before the accident on June 7, 2014.” Federal regulations limit truck drivers to 11 hours of driving during a 14-hour day, but the regulations don’t count the time it takes truckers to drive to work.
The lawsuit notes there were many Wal-Mart distribution facilities that are much closer to Roper’s home, including at least nine in Georgia.
“Wal-Mart not only failed to condemn, but condoned this practice of its drivers routinely violating Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration Regulations,” the lawsuit charged.
The lawsuit also alleges that Wal-Mart gave Roper a defective truck.
“The truck being operated by Mr. Roper was state-of-the art, and equipped with sophisticated collision-avoidance systems all designed to be automatically brake the truck when it senses slowing traffic,” the lawsuit charged. “However, the truck did not automatically brake before the accident, and thus, Wal-Mart knew or should have known that one of the truck’s most important safety features was compromised.”
The lawsuit charges Wal-Mart with three counts of negligence, reckless intentional conduct and loss of consortium. Krista Millea was eight months pregnant when the accident occurred.
The lawsuit seeks actual, compensatory and statutory damages, punitive damages, and attorneys fees. The plaintiffs have demanded a jury trial.
Roper, 35, has pled not guilty to assault and death charges by auto and is free on bond.
“We’re praying for the family and friends of the passenger who lost his life in the terrible accident in New Jersey. Our hearts go out to everyone involved, and we hope those who were injured get the care that they need and make a full recovery,” Bill Simon, Wal-Mart CEO, said in a statement on June 7th. “This is a tragedy and we are profoundly sorry that one of our trucks was involved. We are working quickly to understand what happened and are cooperating fully with law enforcement to aid their investigation.”