11:28am PT by Eriq Gardner
Walmart Faults Tracy Morgan for Not Wearing Seat Belt During Car Accident (Exclusive)
On Monday, Walmart delivered its answer in a New Jersey federal court to 30 Rock actor Tracy Morgan's lawsuit arising from a six-car accident on the New Jersey Turnpike. Among nine affirmative defenses, Walmart says that injuries "were caused, in whole or in part, by plaintiffs' failure to properly wear an appropriate available seatbelt restraint device."
Morgan was among several people injured who are now suing Walmart for negligence.
In particular, their lawsuit filed in July questions whether Walmart driver Kevin Roper was fatigued at the time of the crash. According to the suit, Roper had commuted 700 miles from his home in Jonesboro, Ga., to a Walmart facility in Smyrna, Del., before beginning his shift.
"Walmart knew or should have known" that Roper had been "awake for more than 24 consecutive hours" ahead of the crash.
In its filed answer, Walmart wouldn't go into particulars about exactly what happened. The corporate giant says it has been designated by the National Transportation Safety Board as a party in an investigation of the accident. Walmart cites a part of transportation law as limiting the dissemination of investigative information.
"Accordingly, absent entry of a Protective Order and adequate protections by the Court to maintain the confidential nature of Wal-Mart's responses as required by the NTSB on-going investigation, Wal-Mart is unable to admit or deny" various allegations in the lawsuit.
Nevertheless, Walmart outlines its affirmative defenses to claims brought by Morgan, as well as Morgan's assistant, Jeffrey Millea, his wife, Krista Millea, and comedian Ardie Fuqua.
Failure to wear seat belts is one.
"By failing to exercise ordinary care in making use of available seatbelts, upon information and belief, plaintiffs acted unreasonably and in disregard of plaintiffs' own best interests," states Walmart's answer.
Walmart also looks to defend itself by disputing a basis for the negligence claim; disputing that actions were proximately caused by the company and its agents; disputing that Walmart had any control over third parties who may have caused damages; and disputing that it owed any duty to the plaintiffs.
The defendant also asserts that plaintiffs are barred from recovering damages because they failed to mitigate their losses. Further, Walmart says its due process rights will be violated because the company "did not engage in any wanton or willful conduct that would warrant an award of punitive damages."
An assessment of damages for the well-known comedian-actor might be the next issue in the case. Walmart is demanding that plaintiffs furnish a written statement specifying the amount of damages alleged. The company is being represented by Jeffrey O'Hara of LeClairRyan.
The official comment from Walmart: "Walmart filed its official response to the plaintiffs’ lawsuit earlier today, and the company continues to stand willing to work with Mr. Morgan and the other plaintiffs to resolve this matter.”