Walmart claims Tracy Morgan and other victims weren't wearing seat belts

By Greg Grisolano, Land Line staff writer | Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Lawyers for retail giant Walmart have filed a response to a lawsuit filed by Tracy Morgan and three other victims who were injured in a June 7 deadly crash with one of the company’s tractor-trailers, alleging none of the victims were wearing seat belts.

“By failing to exercise ordinary care in making use of available seatbelts … plaintiffs acted unreasonably and in disregard of plaintiffs’ own best interests,” Walmart’s lawyer Jeffrey L. O’Hara stated in the filing.

The response, which was filed Sept. 29 in the U.S. District Court of New Jersey, also seeks to have a jury trial for the suit.

Actor-comedian Morgan and three others filed the negligence suit against Walmart for a June 7 fatal crash in which Morgan was severely injured and another passenger in his vehicle was killed.

The suit alleges the retail giant was “careless and negligent” in the ownership and operation of its tractor-trailer, which crashed into the back of a limousine van carrying Morgan and four other passengers. One of those passengers, comedian James McNair, died as a result of injuries suffered in the crash.

The lawsuit states that Morgan and the other passengers sustained “severe painful bodily injuries” including multiple fractures requiring multiple surgeries, extensive medical treatment, and significant physical rehabilitation. It also alleges that the truck driver, 35-year-old Kevin Roper, fell asleep behind the wheel while driving, and that the collision avoidance technology installed in the truck failed to automatically engage the brakes.

Roper is facing five criminal charges from the state of New Jersey, including one count of death by auto. He has pleaded not guilty.

The other three plaintiffs in the suit are comedian Ardley Fuqua Jr.; Morgan’s personal assistant Jeffrey Millea; and Millea’s wife, Krista. Fuqua and Jeffrey Millea were passengers in the van when it crashed.

The lawsuit alleges that Roper commuted from his home in Jonesboro, Ga., roughly 750 miles from the Walmart distribution center in Smyrna, Del., before starting his work shift on the morning of Friday, June 6, approximately 13 and a half hours before the crash. A criminal complaint filed by the Middlesex County prosecutor states that Roper had not slept for “a period of in excess of 24 hours,” but the document does not state any additional details as to how investigators arrived at that conclusion.

The National Transportation Safety Board issued a preliminary report on June 19, stating that Roper’s day started 11:22 a.m. on June 6, according to his electronic driver log. It would end at approximately 12:54 a.m. on Saturday morning, when his 2011 Peterbilt tractor-trailer slammed into a 2012 Mercedes-Benz limousine van near milepost 71.4 of the northbound lanes of the New Jersey Turnpike.

The NTSB’s June 19 report states that according to electronic driver log information, Roper had logged 9 hours 37 minutes of driving time when the crash occurred. With respect to the maximum 14-hour consecutive duty period for commercial motor vehicle drivers, Roper had logged 13 hours 32 minutes at the time of the collision, per the NTSB report.

The impact of the crash caused both vehicles to move forward, causing secondary impacts with other vehicles that were slowed in the traffic queue that developed south of some road construction. The limo van rolled over and came to rest on its left side, facing east, across the center and right lanes, according to the report.

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