Comedian Tracy Morgan, others file lawsuit against Wal-Mart for “reckless” conduct in fatal NJ Turnpike accident

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by Eric Pearson

You may have heard about the trucking accident that claimed the life of comedian Jimmy Mack and injured others including Tracy Morgan, the former “Saturday Night Live” and “30 Rock” star. Morgan suffered a broken leg and broken ribs in the June 7th crash on the New Jersey Turnpike.

Truck driver Kevin Roper, 35, of Jonesboro, Georgia, has pleaded not guilty to death by auto and assault by auto charges. The criminal complaint also accuses Roper of not sleeping for more than 24 hours before the crash, a violation of New Jersey law. Roper was driving a truck for Wal-Mart at the time of the accident.

According to federal transportation safety investigators, Roper was driving 65 mph in the 60 seconds before he slammed into Morgan’s limousine van. The speed limit in the area had been lowered to 45 mph that night because of construction. The report concluded that Roper had been on the job about 13 1/2 hours at the time of the crash. Federal rules permit truck drivers to work up to 14 hours a day, with a maximum of 11 hours behind the wheel.

Tracy Morgan and others have now filed a lawsuit against Wal-Mart alleging that Wal-Mart should have known Roper had been awake for over 24 hours and that his commute of 700 miles from his home in Georgia to work in Delaware was “unreasonable:”

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.

Morgan’s suit also claims that the truck that Roper was driving was equipped with a “collision-avoidance system” designed to begin to automatically brake the truck when it senses traffic slowing. However, the truck failed to automatically brake before the crash. Wal-Mart either knew about or should have known about the malfunctioning equipment before the accident according to the lawsuit.

Federal Hours-of-Service Regulations

Professional trucking companies are required to follow the hours-of-service regulations of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration. The purpose of the hours-of-service regulations is to keep fatigued drivers off the public roadways. The regulations put limits in place for when and how long a driver can drive in order to ensure that drivers are awake and alert while driving and to help reduce the possibility of driver fatigue.

The hours-of-service regulations are found in Part 395 of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations. The regulations focus on when and how long a driver is allowed to drive by placing specific limits on the amount of time he can drive and how many total hours he can work before he is no longer permitted to drive a commercial motor vehicle.

Drivers must follow the maximum duty limits at all times. The regulations include a 14-hour “driving window” limit, 11-hour driving limit, and 60-hour/7-day and 70-hour/8-day duty limits. The 14-Hour driving window is usually thought of as a “daily” limit. A driver is allowed a period of 14 consecutive hours in which to drive up to 11 hours after being off duty for 10 or more consecutive hours.

Last year the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) announced some changes to the regulations designed to reduce truck driver fatigue. One of the changes requires truck drivers to take a 30-minute break during the first eight hours of a shift. Although a driver may drive a total of 11 hours during the 14-hour period, driving is not permitted if more than 8 hours have passed since the end of the driver’s last off-duty or sleeper-berth period of at least 30 minutes. For example, if the driver started driving immediately after coming on duty, he could drive for 8 consecutive hours, take a half hour break, and then drive another 3 hours for a total of 11 hours. In addition, the regulations now limit the maximum average work week for truck drivers to 70 hours, a decrease from the previous maximum of 82 hours.

Unfortunately, professional truck drivers are sometimes asked to drive an unreasonable number of hours. Driving while drowsy is extremely dangerous. Much like a drunk driver, a fatigued driver is less attentive to what is happening on the road and reacts much more slowly than a well-rested driver.

Need help with a claim against a trucking company?

While trucking company lawsuits serve many valuable purposes, they aren’t for the faint of heart. There are unique laws and regulations that are designed specifically to protect motorists from the negligent actions of truck drivers and trucking companies.

Trucking lawsuits can also be time-consuming and challenging. Many trucking companies and their insurers are well-funded and are willing to fight tooth and nail to avoid liability for their negligence. To even the playing field, victims need experienced, aggressive attorneys who will protect them in their time of need and force the trucking companies and their insurers to take responsibility for their actions.

HO&P has the resources and experiences to handle trucking accident cases

Trucking lawsuits can be expensive. To properly prepare a case, an attorney may need to hire expert witnesses in the fields of trucking, trucking regulations, accident reconstruction and life care planning.

Given the complexities of this area of the law, the high costs associated with bringing such cases and the enormous damages often at stake, the last thing a victim of a trucking accident should do is entrust their 18-wheeler case to a lawyer with little or no experience with trucking accident litigation.

At Heygood, Orr & Pearson, our attorneys have tried dozens of cases involving accidents with 18-wheelers and other large commercial vehicles. Our attorneys have helped achieve a $36 million verdict for the family of a teenager injured in a bus crash in East Texas. They have negotiated a $15 million settlement of a case involving an 18-wheeler accident that killed several members of the same family. And they achieved verdicts or settlements of $7.25 million, $5.2 million, $5 million, and $1.8 million in other 18-wheeler cases, just to name a few.

If you or a loved one has been injured or if you have lost someone in an accident involving a commercial truck, you may be entitled to compensation for your injuries, pain and suffering. Contact us today by calling toll-free at 1-877-446-9001 or by following the link to our website contact form to receive a free consultation to discuss your legal rights and options.