Comedian and actor Tracy Morgan is suing Walmart Stores Inc. for negligence, claiming the company contributed to a deadly crash he was in last month. A driver of one of Walmart’s trucks slammed into Morgan’s limousine van and fellow comedian James McNair was killed, others were injured, and Morgan was left in critical condition. The accident occurred on the New Jersey Turnpike June 7.
Filed in U.S. District Court in New Jersey, the suit alleges that Wal-Mart should have known – or knew – that its truck driver, Kevin Roper, had not slept at least 24 hours before the crash and was not compliant with shift limit regulations set by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration. The complaint further alleges that Roper’s 700 mile commute from his home in Jonesboro, Georgia to a Walmart facility in Smyrna, Delaware was “unreasonable” and that he fell asleep behind the wheel, causing the accident. A separate criminal complaint accuses Roper, 35, of violating New Jersey law by not sleeping more than 24 hours before the crash.
Other plaintiffs are limo passengers Jeffrey and Krista Millea and comedian Ardley Fuqua. Jeffrey Millea is Morgan’s assistant. They are all seeking trial by jury with punitive damages, statutory and compensatory damages, legal fees, and pre- and post-judgment interest.
A report from the National Transportation Safety Board said that, just before the accident, Roper was moving 65 mph in a 45-mph zone. The speed limit along that area of the turnpike is normally 55 mph but had been lowered to 45 mph that evening due to construction.
The wreck took the life of 62-year-old comic James “Uncle Jimmy Mack” McNair of Peekskill, New York. McNair was a friend and mentor to Tracy Morgan and an active volunteer in Peekskill. Jimmy Mack and Tracy Morgan met 20 years ago and remained close.
Roper pleaded not guilty last month after being charged with vehicular homicide and assault-by-auto charges. Morgan and his entourage were driving from a comedy performance at Delaware’s Dover Downs Hotel & Casino when, near Cranbury, New Jersey, prosecutors said he rear-ended Morgan’s van.
Tracy Morgan, a star of television’s 30 Rock and formerly of Saturday Night Live, is suing Walmart over the deadly crash after enduring broken ribs and a broken leg. Mr. Fuqua is also in recovery. Morgan was transferred to a rehabilitation center June 20, after two weeks at Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital in New Brunswick, New Jersey.
Tracy Morgan’s lawsuit says that he endured painful and severe injuries, including multiple surgeries that were required by multiple fractures. He has required – and will continue to require – extensive treatment and significant physical rehabilitation.
A statement issued by Bentonville, Arkansas-based Walmart said the company is “committed to doing the right thing for all involved,” and expressed sorrow over the accident and the death of McNair and all injured. “We are deeply sorry that one of our trucks was involved.” The company reported its full coöperation with the ongoing federal investigation.
Tracy Morgan is suing because “Walmart knew or should have known” that Roper had been “awake for more than 24 consecutive hours” before the deadly crash. It also points out that there were a good number of similar Walmart facilities closer to Roper’s Georgia home, including nine in his home state, which would have reduced Roper’s commute to work,” it reads.
By Gregory Baskin