Wal-Mart Stores Inc. said actor-comedian Tracy Morgan is to blame for injuries he sustained in June highway crash because he wasn’t wearing a seatbelt.
Morgan, who was critically injured when the limousine bus he was in was struck by a Wal-Mart truck on the New Jersey Turnpike, sued Wal-Mart for negligence. Investigators found the truck driver was speeding and hadn’t slept for at least 24 hours, but Wal-Mart, the world’s biggest retailer, said Morgan is responsible “in whole or in part” for his injuries.
“By failing to exercise ordinary care in making use of available seatbelts,” Morgan “acted unreasonably and in disregard” of his own best interests, Wal-Mart said in a filing Monday in federal court in Trenton, New Jersey.
Shifting blame onto Morgan would allow the Bentonville, Arkansas-based chain to try to reduce or eliminate damages in the case. In the same filing, Wal-Mart asked Morgan to specify how much in damages he’s seeking.
The accident occurred as Morgan, known for his work on “30 Rock” and “Saturday Night Live,” was returning from a stand- up comedy show at Dover Downs Hotel & Casino in Delaware.
With Morgan were Jeffrey Millea, his personal assistant, and three other comedians, including James McNair and Ardley Fuqua Jr. McNair, 62, was killed in the crash. Fuqua and Millea, who suffered serious injuries, joined Morgan in the lawsuit, as did Millea’s wife Krista, who wasn’t in the vehicle.
Morgan’s attorney, Benedict Morelli, didn’t immediately return a call for comment on the claim about the seatbelt.
Wal-Mart “knew or should have known” it was unreasonable for the trucker, Kevin Roper, to commute about 750 miles (1,200 kilometers) and then work almost 14 hours before crashing into the van carrying Morgan, according to the complaint, which was filed in July.
Roper drove from his home in Jonesboro, Georgia, to a Wal-Mart facility in Smyrna, Delaware, before making deliveries and pickups in New Jersey, Delaware and Pennsylvania, the National Transportation Safety Board said last month. He drove at 65 miles (105 kilometers) per hour for the 60 seconds before the June 7 crash in an area where the speed limit was 45 mph due to construction, the NTSB said. He has been charged with death by auto and assault.
Federal regulations aimed at reducing fatigue limit truck drivers to 11 hours of driving and 14 hours of on-duty time each day. There are also limits on the weekly number of hours of driving, which the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration tightened last year. The Senate is considering reversing part of that regulation.
On July 10, Morgan returned to his home from the hospital after multiple surgeries and will undergo outpatient therapy, Morelli said in July.
The case is Morgan v. Wal-Mart Stores Inc., 14-cv-4388, U.S. District Court, District of New Jersey (Trenton).
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