“I can’t believe Walmart is blaming me for an accident that they caused,” Tracy Morgan said in a statement the day after Walmart said in a court filing that Morgan and others in his limo are “in whole or in part” responsible for outcome of a fatal highway crash. “My friends and I were doing nothing wrong. I want to thank my fans for sticking with me during this difficult time,” Morgan said in today’s statement. He said he issued the statement “after I heard what Walmart said in court.”
One day earlier Walmart stated, in a filing made in federal court, that Morgan and other passengers in the limo struck from behind by a Walmart truck bear some or all of the responsibility for their injuries/death because of their “failure to properly wear an appropriate available seatbelt restraint device.” The July accident injured Morgan and killed James McNair as Morgan returned from a show in Delaware. Morgan spent several weeks in rehab with rib and leg injuries.
After the filing by Walmart Stores Inc., based in Bentonville, Arkansas, an attorney representing the Saturday Night Live alum and the other plaintiffs called Walmart’s claim “surprising and appalling.” Added attorney Benedict Morelli, “It’s disingenuous…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.”
The lawsuit seeks a jury trial and punitive and compensatory damages. It says the retail giant should have known that its truck driver had been awake for more than 24 hours before the crash and that his commute of 700 miles from his home in Georgia to work in Delaware was “unreasonable.” It also alleges the driver fell asleep at the wheel, the AP reported. Truck driver Kevin Roper, of Jonesboro, Georgia, pleaded not guilty to death by auto and assault by auto charges in state court. A criminal complaint also accuses him of not sleeping for more than 24 hours before the crash, a violation of New Jersey law.
Walmart spokeswoman Brooke Buchanan said in an email that the company “continues to stand willing to work with Mr. Morgan and the other plaintiffs to resolve this matter.”
Passengers Ardley Fuqua and Jeffrey Millea and Millea’s wife, Krista Millea, also are named as plaintiffs in the lawsuit.
A report by federal transportation safety investigators said Roper was driving 65 mph before he crashing into the limo. The speed limit in that area 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, according to the AP.