Wal-Mart Settles With Family of Comedian Who Died in Crash

Wal-Mart Stores Inc. reached a confidential legal settlement with the family of comedian James McNair, who died in a June 7 accident on the New Jersey Turnpike that also seriously injured actor-comedian Tracy Morgan.

The settlement followed months of “often contentious but always respectful negotiations” with Wal-Mart, the world’s largest retailer, said the family’s attorney, Daryl Zaslow. Neither Zaslow nor Wal-Mart disclosed terms of the accord with McNair’s son, Jamel, 26, and daughter, Denita, 19. The family hadn’t filed a lawsuit.

“I thought we had an extraordinarily strong case and we ultimately demonstrated that to Wal-Mart,” Zaslow said. “They did the right thing by stepping up to the plate and taking care of this family.”

McNair, 62, died when a tractor trailer driven by Wal-Mart employee Kevin Roper struck the rear of a van also carrying Morgan and others after a comedy show in Delaware. Roper pleaded not guilty to charges of vehicular homicide and assault by auto. Morgan, who was in a coma for days with a traumatic brain injury, and three others have sued Wal-Mart.

Police said Roper went at least 24 hours without sleep before the accident, driving from his home in Georgia to a Wal-Mart facility in Delaware. He then made deliveries and pickups in New Jersey, Delaware and Pennsylvania, the National Transportation Safety Board has said. He drove at 65 miles per hour for the 60 seconds before the crash in an area where the speed limit was 45 mph due to construction, the NTSB said.

Fatigued Drivers

“An accident of this magnitude with this amount of publicity helps shed light on a problem in our country -- when you put a fatigued driver behind the wheel of an 18-wheeler, people don’t come home to their family,” Zaslow said.

Brooke Buchanan, a spokeswoman for Bentonville, Arkansas-based Wal-Mart, said, “We know there is nothing we can do to change what happened to Mr. McNair, but Wal-Mart and his family have worked closely together to reach an agreement. Wal-Mart continues to work to conclude all of the remaining issues as a result of the accident, and we’re committed to doing what’s right.”

Roper remains on administrative, non-driving leave pending the outcome of his criminal case, she said.

McNair, also known as Jimmy Mack, was a comedian all of his life and “kind of everybody’s uncle” in his community of Peekskill, New York, Zaslow said.

Zaslow said he considered filing a negligence lawsuit in New Jersey, New York, Arkansas and Georgia, and consulted several experts. While the two sides agree to a dollar amount in November, other matters remain unresolved, he said. They agreed to announce the settlement this week, he said.

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