From the hours immediately following the fatal crash along the New Jersey Turnpike in June that killed one comedian (“Jimmy Mack”) and critically wounded three others — Tracy Morgan, Ardie Fuqua and Morgan’s assistant, Jeffrey Millea — Walmart said it’d do everything to settle the matter quickly and smoothly.
Bill Simon, president and CEO of Walmart U.S., released a statement a couple of days after the crash: “This is a tragedy, and we are profoundly sorry that one of our trucks was involved. The facts are continuing to unfold. If it’s determined that our truck caused the accident, Walmart will take full responsibility.”
In legal documents filed today in New Jersey and first reported by The Hollywood Reporter, Walmart is going to mount a rigorous defense anyhow.
Two months after Morgan, Fuqua, Millea and his wife filed a formal suit against Walmart, the corporate giant countered with its own allegations. Among them, the victims in the case are to blame for not wearing their seat belts when the Walmart truck rear-ended them at 65 mph, crushing their limo and flipping it onto its side.
“By failing to exercise ordinary care in making use of available seatbelts, upon information and belief, plaintiffs acted unreasonably and in disregard of plaintiffs’ own best interests,” states Walmart’s legal answer to the lawsuit, filed by attorney Jeffrey O’Hara of LeClairRyan.
Never mind that the victims were riding in a Mercedes Sprinter SUV limo, which featured ample height and space designed specifically for passengers not to remain in their seats. Nor that the limo was stopped for highway construction, while the Walmart truck driver didn’t stop but plowed into their vehicle.
Instead, taking a wholly legal defense, Walmart’s answer disputes the claims of negligence, that the accident was caused by its driver, and even if so, that Walmart had control over anyone who was to blame, so it also denies owing anything to the plaintiffs.
Oh, legal posturing.
UPDATED: Morgan responded Tuesday with a statement of his own. “After I heard what Walmart said in court I felt I had to speak out. I can’t believe Walmart is blaming me for an accident that they caused. My friends and I were doing nothing wrong. I want to thank my fans for sticking with me during this difficult time. I love you all. I’m fighting hard every day to get back.”
Walmart’s answer also seeks specific written amounts for what damages might be owed to Morgan, Fuqua and the Milleas.
Morgan, Fuqua and Millea all remained in critical condition for almost a month after the crash. Morgan began recovering at home on July 12; Fuqua and Millea subsequently were released from the hospital and are recovering slowly in private care.