In June, a Walmart driver slammed his truck into the limousine carrying comedians Tracy Morgan and James McNair. Morgan suffered severe personal injury. The collision killed McNair.
The crash generated media discussion related to highway safety and, particularly, the safety of large commercial trucks on our roads. Morgan filed suit against Walmart seeking to recover damages as a result of the truck driver’s negligence. In his suit, Morgan contends the truck driver had not slept in 24 hours prior to the accident. Truck drivers suffering fatigue and being pushed to make quick deliveries are real and far too common dangers on our highways.
I have represented individuals in cases against Walmart in the past. I always expect Walmart to fight as hard as possible to avoid accountability or liability. Walmart even takes a hard line when its own employees are hurt on the job and simply need workers’ compensation benefits. Maybe Morgan’s case, being in the public spotlight, will eventually be different? Maybe Walmart will treat Morgan better than others in an effort to avoid bad publicity? I don’t know what course the retailer will eventually take in his case. However, it sounds as if Walmart began defending the claims as it does most others.
In its initial response to Morgan’s suit, Walmart attempted to blame Morgan himself for the injuries. The effort by a defendant to avoid responsibility and shift blame back to the injured victim is a topic I wrote about recently. However, this is not the only tactic Walmart is apparently using to avoid or delay justice in Morgan’s case.
According to ABC News:
The truck driver charged in a New Jersey highway crash that injured comedian-actor Tracy Morgan and killed another man filed a request Friday to delay a federal lawsuit while his criminal case proceeds in state court.
The defense tactic of trying to delay civil justice due to pending criminal charges is one I’ve seen in past cases. A couple years ago, I represented the family of a local paramedic who was struck and killed while helping someone on the side of an Alabama highway. The defendant in that case was speeding in icy conditions, drove past a law enforcement officer waving for him to slow down, lost control, and ran off the highway. Law enforcement arrested the defendant driver because of his reckless conduct and pursued criminal homicide charges against him. When we filed a wrongful death suit for the Decatur family of this paramedic, the defendant immediately moved the Court to stop our proceedings until his criminal charges were resolved. The defendant in our case argued our civil proceedings could violate his right under the 5th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution not to incriminate himself.
Was the defendant entitled to a stay of our Alabama civil damages case? The answer is, not necessarily. The Alabama Supreme Court has previously ruled:
The United States Constitution does not automatically require a stay of civil proceedings pending the outcome of parallel criminal proceedings or potential criminal proceedings.
. . .
There are situations where the right against self-incrimination can be adequately protected while the civil case proceeds in some limited way.
Should an injured plaintiff simply agree to completely stop or stay his damages case? No. Our justice system already works slowly. Serious cases involve a number of issues. While the U.S. Constitution certainly protects the defendant from being forced to testify against himself in a criminal matter, this protection does not necessarily mean the entire civil case process should stop. The parties can often continue with other discovery issues or the depositions of witnesses and doctors. The parties can continue to move forward with some trial preparations. In Alabama, our Court has developed a number of factors aimed at balancing a defendant’s Constitutional right against self-incrimination with the important private and public interests in moving damage cases forward. Hopefully, in Morgan’s case, the Court will continue to move the wheels of justice forward.