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Wal-Mart Fights Tracy Morgan’s Injury Claim

NEWARK (CN) - Actor Tracy Morgan's injuries from a June accident involving a Wal-Mart truck could have been reduced if he'd worn a seat belt, Wal-Mart said Monday in an answer to Morgan's lawsuit.

Wal-Mart claims in Federal Court that the injuries Morgan and other passengers suffered in the June 7 crash involving their limousine and a Wal-Mart truck "could have been diminished or minimized by the exercise of reasonable conduct in using the available seatbelts."

The crash, in the early hours of June 7 on the New Jersey Turnpike's northbound spur, came after Morgan and other comedians and friends were returning from a comedy show in Dover, Del.

A Wal-Mart truck driven by Kevin Roper rear-ended the comedians' limo near Cranbury, N.J. Roper has been charged with death by auto and assault by auto.

Morgan, the former "Saturday Night Live" and "30 Rock" star, suffered a broken leg, broken nose and broken ribs in the crash.

James McNair, a comedian and friend of Morgan who went by the name Jimmy Mack, was killed.

Investigators with the National Transportation Safety Board found that Roper was driving 65 mph in a 45 mph construction zone, and had logged 13 hours and 32 minutes of driving at the time of the collision. The agency said the legal limit for a trucker's shift is 14 hours.

Comedian Ardley Fuqua Jr. and two other injured passengers are named as plaintiffs, in addition to Morgan, in the case filed in July. The family of James McNair has said publicly that they will file their own wrongful death suit, but have yet to do so.

According to the complaint from Morgan and the three other passengers, Wal-Mart should have known the driver had been awake for more than 24 hours. They claim that the driver also had a commute of 700 miles from his home in Georgia to work in Delaware, which is "unreasonable." The lawsuit also claims that the Wal-Mart driver fell asleep at the wheel.

Wal-Mart filed an answer to the negligence complaint on Monday, claiming that "plaintiffs' complaint fails to set forth any facts which are sufficient to support a direct and/or vicarious claim of negligence as to Wal-Mart."

Wal-Mart denied all of the allegations regarding personal liability for the company.

It claimed that the plaintiffs' injuries "were caused, in whole or in part, by plaintiffs' failure to properly wear an appropriate available seatbelt restraint device," and that "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."

"Accordingly, all or a portion of the injuries could have been diminished or minimized by the exercise of reasonable conduct in using the available seatbelts," Wal-Mart claims, citing New Jersey's seat belt law.

Wal-Mart also claims that the plaintiffs should be barred from recovering damages under the Punitive Damages Act, as "any award for punitive damages absent proof by clear and convincing evidence would be a violation of Wal-Mart's right to due process" under the New Jersey and U.S. Constitutions.

Wal-Mart also asked that the plaintiffs "furnish a written statement specifying the amount of damages alleged in the complaint."

Morgan responded to Wal-Mart's answer Tuesday evening.

"After I heard what Wal-Mart said in court, I felt I had to speak out," the actor said in a statement. "I can't believe Wal-Mart 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."

Bendict Morelli, Morgan's attorney, told the New York Post on Tuesday that "after Wal-Mart told the public and their customers that they would take full responsibility, they put responsibility on my clients and the deceased - which I think is despicable."

Morelli said that it's not known for certain whether Morgan and the other passengers were wearing seatbelts.

Morgan has been struggling with injuries from the crash. He is undergoing at-home rehabilitation and uses a wheelchair. Morelli told the Newark Star Ledger that it may be months before he can fully walk again.

Brooke Buchanan, a Wal-Mart spokeswoman, told NJ Advance Media on Monday that despite the answer's contents, the company "continues to stand willing to work with Mr. Morgan and the other plaintiffs to resolve this matter."

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