TRACY MORGAN v. WAL-MART
In July, Comedian/Actor Tracy Morgan filed a negligence lawsuit against Wal-Mart which arises from a June 7th six car pileup on the New Jersey Turnpike. Morgan alleges that Wal-Mart knew or should have known that the driver of their semi-truck involved in the collision had been fatigued, and awake for more than 24 consecutive hours.
Wal-Mart responded to the lawsuit claiming that Morgan is responsible for his own injuries because he was not wearing his seatbelt when the collision occurred. Morgan was riding in a limousine, and was in critical condition immediately after the limousine accident.
Wal-Mart’s defense is an attempt to avoid financial responsibility for the collision by arguing a legal theory of comparative negligence. Under New Jersey law, if your own negligence is higher than 50%, you may not recover from the other negligent parties in the collision. If Wal-Mart can convince a jury that Morgan’s failure to wear a seatbelt in the limousine was a 51% or more contributing factor to his injuries, they would not be liable for any monetary damages.
Morgan’s lawsuit against Wal-Mart would be in better shape had his limousine accident occurred in California.
In California, Wal-Mart would be fighting an uphill battle because a claimant can still recover so long as they are not found 100% liable. Theoretically, this means that if a California jury assigned 99% responsibility to Morgan for his own failure to wear his seatbelt, he could still recover from Wal-Mart for his injuries. If this happened however, Morgan’s general damages amount would be reduced by 99%, the percentage of his own negligence.
California’s law offers better protection to those involved in serious trucking accidents in which their own negligence might also be a contributing factor to the injury. Wal-Mart’s blaming Tracy Morgan for causing his own injuries is a better legal strategy in New Jersey than it would be in California.