Wal-Mart Says Tracy Morgan Settlement in Insurer Limbo

     BENTONVILLE, Ark. (CN) – Wal-Mart claims in court that its insurers unfairly refused to pay personal injury settlements to actor Tracy Morgan and other victims of a 2014 deadly accident involving one of the retailer’s trucks.
     While Wal-Mart negotiated settlement amounts in May and fully paid all claims, the retail giant says in a Sept. 30 lawsuit that six of its commercial excess liability insurers continued to harass them with “pretextual demands for more and more information” to delay settling the lawsuit.
     “These requests were made in bad faith as part of an intentional scheme to avoid making coverage payments due under the excess policies,” the complaint filed in Benton County Court on September 30 states.
     The crash that is the subject of the settlement occurred in the wee hours of June 7, 2014. as the “Saturday Night Live” vet was on the way home from performing stand-up at Dover Downs Hotel & Casino in Delaware.
     While traveling north on the New Jersey Turnpike near Cranbury, N.J., a Wal-Mart truck rear-ended the SUV limo in which Morgan, 46, and seven others were riding.
     The truck driver, Kevin Roper, was driving 65 mph in a 45 mph construction zone, and had been on duty for 13 hours and 32 minutes at the time of the collision, according to National Transportation Safety Board.
     The agency says the legal limit for a trucker’s shift is 14 hours.
     While comedian James McNair was killed in the crash, Morgan was left with brain injuries, a broken leg, broken nose, and broken ribs.
     McNair and the survivors of the crash also settled claims against Wal-Mart, including comedian Ardley Fugua Jr., comedian Harris Stanton, Morgan’s assistant Jeffrey Millea, the limo’s driver Tyrone Gale, and its owner Edward Walpole.
     Roper was charged with death by auto and assault by auto.
     Wal-Mart spokesperson Randy Hargrove said Monday that the company “took full responsibility for the tragic accident and did what was right to insure the well-being of those who were affected.”
     “We funded the settlement agreements in full but some of the insurance carriers failed to pay their portion of the settlement amount,” Hargrove said in an interview with Courthouse News Service.
     “Really, this lawsuit is about the defendant insurance companies not living up to the requirements of their own policies,” he said.
     After the parties reached a settlement, Morgan and Wal-Mart jointly moved to permanently seal documents related to the settlement and request for attorneys’ fees on May 27.
     The lawsuit was dismissed with prejudice on July 20. The settlement amounts remain confidential, but Wal-Mart’s lawsuit says the claims were settled for “a reasonable amount.”
     “The survivors settlement amount was, under all the facts and circumstances, reasonable compensation – both in the aggregate and as to each of the survivor plaintiffs – for these claimants’ economic damages and ‘pain and suffering’ damages alone, without considering any possible punitive damages.”
     Wal-Mart, headquarter in Bentonville, Arkansas, says it shared all the information it obtained in settlement negotiations with its insurers, including long-term consequences of the victims’ injuries, and future income based on an economic expert in the entertainment industry who reviewed the careers of the survivors.
     Forbes estimates Morgan’s net worth to be around $18 million.
     In September, comedian Damon Wayans blurted out on the radio show The Breakfast Club that Morgan had settled with Wal-Mart for $90 million. Morgan’s camp quickly denied that figure, calling Wayans’ statement “false” and adding that the two comics have had no contact with each other since before the accident.
     Wal-Mart seeks compensatory and punitive damages from its insurers for breach of contract, negligent failure to settle claim within policy limits and bad faith. The insurers are: Liberty Insurance Underwriters Inc., The Ohio Casualty Insurance Co.; QBE Insurance Corp., St. Paul Fire & Marine Insurance Co., The Travelers Companies Inc. and XL Insurance America Inc.
     “Defendants engaged in an oppressive and malicious effort to prolong the investigation and payment of Wal-Mart’s claim by failing to properly investigate the claim and by continually making oppressive and unwarranted requests for information from Wal-Mart,” the complaint says.
     Wal-Mart is represented by its Assistant General Counsel Emily Reynolds.
     Morgan is scheduled to host “Saturday Night Live” October 17.

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