July 12 (Bloomberg) -- Actor-comedian Tracy Morgan sued Wal-Mart Stores Inc. for negligence over a New Jersey Turnpike accident last month that left him critically injured after a company truck driver went at least 24 hours without sleep.
Wal-Mart “knew or should have known” it was unreasonable for trucker Kevin Roper to commute about 750 miles and then work almost 14 hours before crashing into a van carrying Morgan, according to a complaint in federal court in Trenton, New Jersey. It seeks unspecified compensatory and punitive damages.
Roper drove from his home in Jonesboro, Georgia, to a Wal-Mart facility in Smyrna, Delaware, before making deliveries and pickups in New Jersey, Delaware and Pennsylvania, the National Transportation Safety Board said last month. He drove at 65 miles (105 kilometers) per hour for the 60 seconds before the June 7 crash in an area where the speed limit was 45 mph due to construction, the NTSB said. He has been charged with death by auto and assault.
“Wal-Mart knew or should have known that its drivers were routinely fatigued -- thus putting themselves and others on the road in danger -- because in addition to working long shifts driving trucks, they regularly commuted hundreds of miles to get to work,” according to the complaint filed July 10.
Federal regulations aimed at reducing fatigue limit truck drivers to 11 hours of driving and 14 hours of on-duty time each day. There are also limits on the number of hours of driving per week, which the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration tightened last year. The Senate is considering reversing part of that regulation.
The accident occurred as Morgan, known for his work on “30 Rock” and “Saturday Night Live,” was returning from a stand-up comedy show at Dover Downs Hotel & Casino in Delaware. With him were Jeffrey Millea, his personal assistant, and three other comedians, including James McNair and Ardley Fuqua Jr. McNair, 62, was killed in the crash. Fuqua and Millea, who suffered serious injuries, joined Morgan in the lawsuit, as did Millea’s wife Krista, who wasn’t in the van.
Wal-Mart spokesman Randy Hargrove said in an e-mail the accident was a “terrible tragedy” and the company is “committed to doing the right thing for all involved.”
Hargrove reiterated in the e-mail that the company, the world’s largest retailer, is cooperating in the investigation. Wal-Mart is based in Bentonville, Arkansas.
Roper’s 2011 Peterbilt tractor was outfitted with “sophisticated collision-avoidance systems all designed to begin automatically braking the truck when it senses slowing down traffic,” according to the complaint. Because it didn’t slow before the accident, Wal-Mart “knew or should have known that one of the truck’s most important safety features was compromised.”
On July 10, Morgan returned to his home from the hospital after multiple surgeries and will undergo outpatient therapy, according to his attorney, Benedict Morelli. Millea has also returned home, and his wife had a baby last week, while Fuqua remains hospitalized, Morelli said in a telephone interview.
Morelli said Wal-Mart should “be able to find a truck driver who lives in Delaware or close to Delaware who doesn’t have to drive from Georgia to pick up a truck.”
The case is Morgan v. Wal-Mart, 14-cv-4388, U.S. District Court, District of New Jersey (Trenton).
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