The comedian Tracy Morgan and two others injured in a fatal collision with a Wal-Mart Stores (WMT) truck are suing the retail giant. The lawsuit accuses the company of negligence and reckless conduct for assigning the truck’s driver, Kevin Roper, to a Wal-Mart facility in Delaware, more than 700 miles from his home in Georgia. “Additionally, there were many Wal-Mart distribution facilities closer to Mr. Roper’s home—including at least nine in Georgia alone—which would have significantly reduced Mr. Roper’s commute to work,” the lawsuit says.
The June 7 accident killed James “Jimmy Mack” McNair, 62, and left Morgan, comedian Ardley Fuqua Jr., and Morgan’s assistant, Jeffrey Millea, with broken bones and other injuries. Millea’s wife, Krista, who was eight months pregnant at the time of the accident but was not in the limousine, also is a plaintiff in the suit. The group was returning to New York from a show in Delaware when they slowed down for construction on Interstate 95 near Cranbury Township, N.J., and were hit by the truck just before 1 a.m. The collision forced the limousine into six other vehicles.
Authorities say Roper, 35, had not slept for 24 hours before the accident. He pleaded not guilty to charges of vehicular homicide, assault, and reckless driving. Roper is not named as a defendant in the lawsuit. Attorney David Sirotkin, who is representing the plaintiffs, did not return a call Monday seeking comment.
According to the complaint, Morgan says he has been unable to work and faces physical therapy to recover from his injuries. “Wal-Mart knew or should have known that it was unreasonable for Mr. Roper to commute more than 700 miles from his home in Jonesboro, Georgia to work at a Wal-Mart facility in Smyrna, Delaware, especially immediately before he was to commence a long shift operating a truck that weighed approximately 30–40 tons,” the lawsuit says.
In a statement sent by Wal-Mart spokeswoman Brooke Buchanan, the company called the accident “a terrible tragedy.” ”As we’ve said, we’re cooperating fully in the ongoing investigation,” the company said. “We know it will take some time to resolve all of the remaining issues as a result of the accident, but we’re committed to doing the right thing for all involved.”
The 2011 Peterbilt truck that Roper drove also was equipped with an automatic braking system that was “compromised” at the time of the accident, according to the lawsuit. Buchanan declined to discuss the system or why it did not slow or stop the truck before the accident. She said about 75 percent of Wal-Mart’s 6,500-truck fleet was equipped with the sensors and that the entire fleet would be outfitted by the end of 2015. A spokesman for Peterbilt, which is based in Denton, Tex., did not return a call or e-mail seeking comment about the automatic braking system; two Peterbilt dealers referred calls to the company. The suit was filed July 10 in U.S. District Court in New Jersey.