A beloved television personality, comedian Tracy Morgan of Saturday Night Live and 30 Rock fame, was seriously injured last Saturday night in a tractor-trailer crash on the New Jersey turnpike. The news is still being reported on the accident itself, but we know that Mr. Morgan and three other comedians were traveling in a limousine-type minibus when the vehicle was rear-ended by a loaded cargo semi truck, driven by a truck driver employed by WalMart.
The crash happened around one o’clock in the morning. With today’s technology there are lots of images and videos of the crash’s aftermath, showing an overturned limo-bus and a huge Big Rig that’s obviously slammed to a stop on there on the freeway.
Sadly, one of Tracy Morgan’s buddies died in the accident: comedian James McNair (you may know him under his stage name of Jimmy Mack). Mr. Morgan was in very serious condition immediately after the accident and there were media rumors he might lose a leg as a result of the crash; fortunately, those rumors have proven to be unfounded and the latest reports are that Tracy Morgan is doing better every day. We know that he suffered a lot of fractures: ribs, leg, etc., but there have been no reports of any traumatic brain injuries or spinal injuries suffered by Mr. Morgan — which bodes well for a full recovery, albeit a pain one.
Truck Driver Arrested on Criminal Charges
The man driving the big rig has already turned himself into the authorities for criminal prosecution. Forbes is reporting that the driver was a victim of “drowsy driving.”
The trucker is facing some pretty serious charges given that a man perished in the crash. As we have discussed in prior posts, in truck accidents where there is a fatality, the driver is often charged with some type of manslaughter or homicide felony charge.
WalMart Liability in Tracy Morgan Crash?
WalMart owned the truck that crashed into Tracy Morgan’s limo-bus. Already, WalMart CEO Bill Simon has issued a press release stating:
“The facts are continuing to unfold. If it’s determined that our truck caused the accident, Walmart will take full responsibility.
“Safety is our absolute highest priority, but that is no comfort whatsoever to the families and friends who are suffering today. We offer them our deepest condolences. We can’t change what happened, but we will do what’s right for the family of the victim and the survivors in the days and weeks ahead.”
Two days later, WalMart issued a second press release, in response to rumors that their driver had been awake for 24 hours straight immediately before the crash:
“With regards to news reports that suggest Mr. Roper was working for 24 hours, it is our belief that Mr. Roper was operating within the federal hours of service regulations. The details are the subject of the ongoing investigation and we are cooperating fully with the appropriate law enforcement agencies. The investigation is ongoing and unfortunately we can’t comment further on the specifics.
Federal law requires drivers to work no more than 14 hours for any shift and 11 hours of driving.”
Bottom line: it’s too soon to know how much fault lies at WalMart’s door for this accident. Not all the facts are in.
Lesson Here: How the Personal Injury Lawsuit is the Tool to Sort Out Responsibility in Big Rig Crashes Like This
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) was promptly on the scene of Tracy Morgan’s accident and the NHTSA investigators will work hard to determine what happened here. Their particular focus will be upon federal regulations and the possible violation of those regulations as a cause of the crash.
However, despite all the water cooler discussions on the comedian’s tragic crash and who is to blame for the accident, this news story is an excellent example of how personal injury litigation can be the tool that sorts through all the facts — all the witness accounts, all the videos, all the photos taken on smartphones, all the documentation including things like the truck driver’s records (and his tweets), to determine what caused this accident.
The criminal system, where a case is already advancing against the driver, points toward punishment for the violation of criminal laws. It is the civil system that fleshes out the legal duties, and the breaches of those duties by different parties to fully comprehend fault in the crash.
Big rig semi truck crashes like this one, involving tractor trailers loaded with cargo driven by driver-employees for big companies, may end up with responsibility being found not only with the driver in the crash, but the company, the truck manufacturer, other drivers on the roadway, servicers of the truck, and more.
In the Tracy Morgan case, it’s much too soon to decide the civil liability and responsibility for this accident. It will only be after the NHTSA investigation is completed as well as experts in the civil case have completed their analysis and filed their reports, that the truth will be completely available to us.