Commentary: Tracy Morgan sues Walmart over truck crash
Former “Saturday Night Live” star Tracy Morgan has filed suit against Walmart claiming the retail giant’s negligence led to the June 7 accident on the New Jersey Turnpike in which one of its trucks crashed into the back of a limousine, severely injuring Morgan and killing a fellow comedian.
Morgan, who also is known for his role on NBC’s “30 Rock” series, suffered a broken leg, broken nose and broken ribs.
The lawsuit alleges Walmart should have known its driver had been awake for more than 24 hours and his commute of 700 miles from his home in Georgia to work in Delaware was “unreasonable.” It also claims the driver fell asleep at the wheel.
The lawsuit, which includes three other plaintiffs, seeks a jury trial and punitive and compensatory damages.
The National Transportation Safety Board is still investigating the crash and Walmart said it is cooperating. It added that “we’re committed to doing the right thing for all involved.”
Truck driver Kevin Roper, 35, has pleaded not guilty to death by auto and assault by auto. A New Jersey criminal complaint accuses him of not sleeping for 24 hours before the crash.
A preliminary NTSB report on the accident says he was driving 65 mph in a 45 mph construction zone. Roper had been on the job about 13.5 hours at the time of the crash, the report concluded. Under federal hours-of-service rules, drivers can work up to 14 hours per day, with a maximum of 11 hours behind the wheel.
The case raises the question of how much responsibility a company has for the individual decisions of its employees when they are off duty. It appears that Roper had not violated the rules on daily work limits. Is the company at fault if a professional driver doesn’t get the necessary rest when he is off the clock?
But it will also be instructive to learn when Roper commuted from Georgia to start his new shift. Could Walmart have easily surmised that its driver was potentially fatigued before jumping into his cab? It would be a problem if dispatchers knew he was driving a long way and rushing straight into the job.
The accident will likely be used by safety advocates as an example of why the maximum daily driving time should be shortened further, putting further pressure on the trucking industry.
This commentary was published in the August 2014 issue of American Shipper.
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