By now, you’ve undoubtedly heard the news surrounding Tracy Morgan and Wal-Mart. To recap, on June 7 of this year, a Wal-Mart tractor-trailer struck a limousine bus on the New Jersey Turnpike, killing one and severely injuring others on board including comedian, Tracy Morgan. According to reports, Morgan’s limo was at a “dead stop” when it was struck by the Wal-Mart truck, which was estimated to have been traveling as much as twenty miles per hour over the posted speed limit (65mph in a 45mph zone) for at least sixty seconds before the collision.
In fact, the driver of the Wal-Mart truck is alleged to have been asleep at the time of the accident. According to reports, the driver had not only spent almost fourteen hours behind the wheel of the Wal-Mart rig, but his shift was immediately preceded by a drive from his home in Jonesboro, Georgia, to the Wal-Mart facility in Smyrna, Delaware, roughly a 750 mile trek.
Taking all of this into consideration, Morgan is well within his rights to pursue compensation from any and all available sources for what almost certainly amounts to negligence on the part of Wal-Mart. It stands to reason, as it is alleged by Morgan, that Wal-Mart clearly knew, or should have known, that requiring one of their drivers to log a fourteen-hour shift after driving most of the Atlantic coast is unreasonable at the very least. And after hearing this news, most of the circulating feedback was somewhat critical of Wal-Mart, and most seemed to acknowledge that Morgan was the victim.
Herein lies the issue with being the largest retail company in the world embroiled in litigation with a famous, and very well-liked comedian: the public is going to take an interest. Litigating a suit against a former Saturday Night Live star who still needs a wheelchair three months after this accident could result in a devastating impact on Wal-Mart’s image, and more importantly, its bottom line.
Indeed, Wal-Mart learned this lesson the hard way. In an effort to limit fault and mitigate its damages, Wal-Mart attempted to shift at least a portion of liability to Morgan. They claimed that he was negligent in not wearing a seat belt, and that negligence, in turn, was a major contributing factor in causing his injuries, which, let’s be honest, is a smart approach and just plain competent lawyering.
However, this approach gave Morgan’s attorney immediate leverage, allowing him to publicly bemoan that the retail giant was skirting responsibility by asserting that the faultless victim was responsible for his own injuries. This should have been anticipated by both the legal and PR teams at Wal-Mart, but apparently wasn’t. In a move that made them look flat-footed and unprepared, they went back on their position and publicly stated only one day later they wanted to settle the case as quickly as possible. While settling this case is probably the prudent strategy for Wal-Mart, taking a legal position, and a reasonable one at that, and then running from it because they were caught off guard makes them look much worse.
Again, there is a lesson to be learned here. Finding yourself involved in a high-profile case can be a great opportunity in terms of favorable publicity and establishing a reputation, but if mishandled, can quickly diminish credibility and provide opposing counsel with leverage they haven’t earned. It is important to weigh all sides of an issue and not be blinded by the desire to win, because in the long run, it may not be considered a victory at all.
For more info the case is Morgan v. Wal-Mart Stores Inc., 14-cv-4388, U.S. District Court, District of New Jersey (Trenton).
For further discussion regarding this topic, or if you or someone you know has been involved in a similar incident please contact the Attorneys at the Schulman Law Group at 954-349-3300, 1-877-529-0444 or at firstname.lastname@example.org