EXCLUSIVE: Walmart’s strategy to blame Tracy Morgan for his serious injuries in a June crash involving a Walmart truck is bound to fail in court, because New Jersey doesn’t recognize “contributory negligence” in auto accidents.
The doctrine of contributory negligence essentially bars an accident victim from recovering damages if the defendant can prove the victim’s negligence contributed to the accident, according to legal references.
In a court filing Monday in New Jersey state court, the retail giant argued that injuries suffered by Morgan and others were caused because they failed to “wear an available seatbelt restraint device.”
Morgan and others could have minimized their injuries had they used the safety devices, the legal response argues.
But there’s one big problem.
Only Alabama, Maryland, North Carolina, Virginia, and Washington, D.C recognize the contributory negligence argument in traffic accident cases.
Even then, contributory negligence applies only when the victim contributes to the crash in some way. It does not cover such things as failing to wear seat belts, even though that may contribute to injuries, according to a legal source.
“A defendant has to show that the plaintiff’s negligence contributed to the accident. If the plaintiff’s behavior made his or her injuries worse, but didn’t actually cause the accident, the defendant is out of luck,” the source said.
“This is clearly an effort on Walmart’s part to put pressure on the victims to convince them to settle the case, which is always more advantageous and cheaper than going to trial [for a defendant],” a legal source said.
In the crash last June in New Jersey, police determined that the driver of the Walmart tractor-trailer had been driving for 24-hours without sleep.
The truck plowed into the back of a van in which Morgan and others were riding. Comedian Jimmy McNair was killed and four others, including Morgan, were injured.
Morgan and fellow passengers Ardley Fuqua Jr., Jeffrey Millea and Krista Millea have filed the lawsuit seeking unspecified damages.
Walmart driver Kevin Roper was charged with one count of death by auto and four counts of assault by auto.
“After I heard what Walmart said in court I felt I had to speak out,” Morgan said in a statement released today (Sept. 30).
“I can’t believe Walmart is blaming me for an accident that they caused,” he wrote. “My friends and I were doing nothing wrong.”
He’s got a point.
For the latest updates on the case, be sure to follow IM on Twitter.