NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) — The family of a comedian killed in the New Jersey Turnpike crash that seriously injured Tracy Morgan last summer has settled a wrongful death claim with Walmart, an attorney representing the family said.
The out-of-court settlement between the company and the estate of James McNair is the first stemming from the June 7 crash in which a Walmart truck slammed into a limo van carrying Morgan and the others home from a show in Delaware.
Morgan, a former “Saturday Night Live” and “30 Rock” star, suffered a traumatic brain injury in the accident, according to his lawyer, and his lawsuit against Walmart is proceeding in federal court. Attorney Benedict Morelli said it is uncertain if he will be “the Tracy Morgan he once was.”
McNair, 62, of Peekskill, New York, was a friend and mentor to Morgan. He died at the scene.
Attorney Daryl Zaslow told The Associated Press that the terms of the settlement decree that the amount is to be kept confidential, but he said the family was pleased with the outcome.
Walmart “accepted their responsibility by making this family more than whole,” he said. “They caused extensive damage to this family and more than stepped up to the plate and took care of this family. Ultimately they did the right thing by the McNairs.”
Zaslow added: “No amount of money can replace what they’ve lost, but what they’ve got will take care of them and allow them to move forward, and their father would be happy for that.”
Zaslow said McNair’s children, 19-year-old Denita and 26-year-old Jamel, purposely stayed out of the spotlight in the months after their father’s death to avoid the media frenzy surrounding the case.
Walmart spokeswoman Brooke Buchanan said it worked closely with McNair’s family to reach the settlement and the company is also having discussions working toward settlements with others injured.
Criminal charges against truck driver Kevin Roper are pending in state court. He has been charged with death by auto and four counts of assault by auto. According to the criminal complaint, Roper was operating the truck without having slept for more than 24 hours.
Federal regulations limit truckers to 11 hours of driving during a 14-hour work day, with no more than 70 hours a week on the road without extra breaks. Drivers who are too sleepy to drive safely must pull over, according to the regulations.
A preliminary investigation by the National Transportation Safety Board estimated that Roper was driving 65 mph in the 60 seconds before he slammed into the limo van. The speed limit on that stretch of the turnpike is 55 mph and was lowered to 45 mph that night because of construction.
In September, the Bentonville, Arkansas-based corporation said in a court filing that Morgan and his fellow passengers were partially to blame for their injuries because they were not wearing seatbelts. Walmart made the claim in New Jersey federal court in response to a lawsuit Morgan filed in July.
“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,” Walmart said in their filing.
Morgan responded saying, “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.”
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