UPDATED July 14, 2014, 11pm
The horrific accident involving comedian Tracy Morgan may become the catalyst for legal changes involving the trucking industry. Last month, the entertainment world was in absolute horror as details surrounding the deadly crash involving comedian Tracy Morgan slowly began to come to light. When the dust settled, 63-year-old writer and comedian James McNair was dead and reports were circulating that Morgan was fighting for his life as well.
Saturday, Morgan was released from rehab and returned to his home, posting his first photo since the accident occurred. Morgan’s representatives said the SNL alum will continue a rigorous rehab regimen from home. However, the comedian’s health isn’t the only affair that he’s getting in order.
Thursday, Morgan’s legal team filed a lawsuit against Wal-Mart in the U.S. District Court in New Jersey. The claim states the retailer was negligent for the actions of driver Kevin Roper, who was driving the Wal-Mart tractor trailer that caused the accident. The complaint says the retail giant should have been aware that the driver was awake for over 24 hours.
"As a result of Wal-Mart's gross, reckless, willful, wanton, and intentional conduct, it should be appropriately punished with the imposition of punitive damages," according to the complaint.
Morgan’s deposition seeks a jury trial as well as punitive and compensatory damages. A report by federal transportation safety investigators revealed Roper was going 65 mph in the minute prior to slamming into Morgan’s limo van. The speed limit on that stretch of the New Jersey turnpike is normally 55 mph, but was lowered to 45 mph because of construction during the night in question. Report say the Wal-Mart driver had been on the road for 13 ½ hours at the time of the crash. The feds permit truck drivers to work a maximum of 14 hours a day, with only 11 of those hours spent behind the wheel.
If Tracy Morgan weren’t an A-list celebrity, the chances of Wal-Mart suffering any significant consequences from this accident would be relatively low. However, Morgan’s pedigree is such that the mere mention of a lawsuit shines a bad light upon the mega-retailer. It should also come as no surprise that Wal-Mart likely has a legion of attorneys at their disposal to combat such charges. With the potential to completely transform the way companies are allowed to push their truckers, this legal skirmish could be just the beginning of a war that would affect a myriad companies who rely heavily on interstate trucking to get their products from point to point as quickly and efficiently as possible.
Just days prior to the accident in June, a Senate panel affirmed a proposal to roll back rule changes enacted in 2012 that forced truck drivers to cut their maximum workweek from 82 hours to 70. Additionally, drivers must also punctuate those work hours with a 34-hour break from driving at least once a week. Drivers are also required to include at least two weekly nighttime rest breaks between 1 am and 5 am. The trucking industry has combated the changes since they were first made law a year ago. They contend that the industry has successfully reduced accidents, as the number of people killed in crashes involving large trucks dropped from 5,282 in 2000 to 3,800 in 2012. However, the U.S. government argues that the total number of deaths involving large trucks is still far too many.
The Senate Appropriations Committee voted 21 to 9 in favor of an amendment to the law presented by Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) that would remove funding for the new roles. The amendment is attached to a transportation bill that would automatically suspend the new Obama backed rules if made law. As Tracy Morgan's legal battle begins, it appears as though the wound of regulating truckers' road time will be torn open as those for and against the law dig in their heals for another pointless fight.