12:36pm PT by Eriq Gardner
Tracy Morgan's Lawyers Warn That America's Roadways Are In "Great Danger"
Attorneys for Tracy Morgan, seriously injured in a car crash on the New Jersey Turnpike this past June, are accusing Walmart of using the truck driver at the center of the accident to block a speedy resolution to the actor's lawsuit. The ramifications of allowing that to happen, they tell a judge, could be quite serious.
Morgan is among several people injured who are now suing Walmart for negligence for allegedly keeping Kevin Roper on the road for a dangerously long stretch. Last month, Roper attempted to intervene in the lawsuit and delay the outcome of the civil action until his own criminal case got resolved.
On Monday, the plaintiffs opposed Roper's motion to intervene and took pointed shots at Walmart.
"Plaintiffs would be prejudiced by a stay of the civil trial because it appears that Wal-Mart is attempting to gain an unfair advantage," states a memorandum.
Attorneys representing Morgan point back to Walmart's answer to the lawsuit, which most notoriously faulted the actor for not wearing a seatbelt, but also cited an investigation by the National Transportation Safety Board as a reason for not being forthcoming on any "investigative information."
"This ploy enabled Wal-Mart to file an 'Answer' which failed to respond to nearly half of the allegations of the Complaint," says the new memorandum.
But the NTSB investigation appears to no longer be a barrier.
"Once it was clear that Wal-Mart would no longer be able to use the NTSB as a delay tactic, the instant Motion to Intervene for the Purposes of Requesting a Stay was filed in short order," continues plaintiffs' memorandum.
Morgan's attorneys call Roper's filing "suspect," a new "ploy to further delay this trial."
Roper is not a defendant in the lawsuit, something that the actor's lawyers are stressing to the judge.
According to the memorandum, "He does not need to choose between waiving his Fifth Amendment rights by defending himself in the civil lawsuit and asserting the privilege and possibly losing the civil case. ... While the outcome of any criminal action would have an effect on the civil case against Wal-Mart since it is vicariously liable for its drivers' conduct in the course of their employment, the converse is not true since any verdict obtained in the civil case would be inadmissible in Mr. Roper's criminal case."
The full memorandum is below and cites the "public interest" factor.
Plaintiff lawyers argue the Tracy Morgan crash has "sharpened the public's focus on the serious issue of trucking accidents," and with an estimated 7,400 drivers drivers on the road, Wal-Mart's responsibility for how it "systematically engages in unsafe trucking
practices" is being called out.
Will this lawsuit save lives?
More from the memorandum: "Wal-Mart's practices place drivers and passengers on America's roadways in great danger of suffering similar fates to the victims in this accident: serious injury or death. Therefore, the public has a great interest discovery in this case proceeding expeditiously so that Wal-Mart's alleged trucking practices will be uncovered and hopefully made safer going forward."