By: Jayme Deerwester, USA TODAY
Comedian Tracy Morgan is suing Wal-Mart over the June 7 New Jersey Turnpike crash that killed fellow comedian James "Jimmy Mack" MccNair and left him with a broken leg, ribs and nose.
His lawsuit, filed Thursday in U.S. District Court in New Jersey, alleges the retail giant acted in a negligent manner by allowing tractor-trailer driver Kevin Roper to drive despite being awake for over 24 hours, causing him to fall asleep at the wheel. A National Transportation Safety Board investigation also found the sleep-deprived trucker was going 20 miles per hour over the limit in a construction zone and near his allotted drive-time limit when he hit and flipped Morgan's limousine van.
"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 fellow passengers — Ardley Fuqua and Jeffrey and Krista Millea — are also named as plaintiffs in the suit.
Wal-Mart issued a response to the suit on Saturday, reports NBCPhilly.com: "This has been a terrible tragedy. We wish Mr. Morgan, Mr. Fuqua Jr., and Mr. Millea full recoveries. Our thoughts continue to go out to them, their families and friends, as well as to the families and friends of everyone involved, including Mr. McNair who lost his life. We are deeply sorry that one of our trucks was involved. As we've said, we're cooperating fully in the ongoing investigation. We know it will take some time to resolve all of the remaining issues as a result of the accident, but we're committed to doing the right thing for all involved."
Morgan was transferred from Robert Wood Johnson Medical Center to a rehabilitation center on June 20 to continue his recovery.
Roper, 35, of Jonesboro, Ga., pleaded not guilty to death by auto and assault by auto charges. A criminal complaint also accuses him of not sleeping for more than 24 hours before the crash, a violation of New Jersey law.
A report by federal transportation safety investigators said Roper was driving 65 mph in the 60 seconds before he slammed into the limo van. The speed limit on that stretch of the turnpike is 55 mph and was lowered to 45 mph that night because of construction.
Roper had been on the job about 13 1/2 hours at the time of the crash, the report concluded. Federal rules permit truck drivers to work up to 14 hours a day, with a maximum of 11 hours behind the wheel.
The crash story put the issue of truckers' driving hours under the microscope.
"That driver should have slept at least seven to eight hours and because he didn't, we lost a good man," Carlos Ortiz, a friend of McNair, told USA TODAY.
Morgan, a New York City native, was returning from a stand-up performance at Dover Downs Hotel & Casino in Delaware when the crash occurred. The injuries forced him to scrap his remaining summer tour dates.
Morgan's lawsuit seeks a jury trial and punitive and compensatory damages.
Contributing: Associated Press