Ovation: Are Passengers Who Don’t Wear Seat Belts Are Partly Responsible For Their Injuries In The Event Of An Accident?
This morning I woke to find an email asking me to sign a petition telling WalMart “How dare you blame the victims for the crash your driver caused”. It made me do a lot of thinking.
You may recall that last June, actor/comedian Tracy Morgan was critically injured in a six-car pile-up on the New Jersey Turnpike when a truck driven by Walmart employee Kevin Roper collided with the rear of a limo that was carrying Morgan and four others. A preliminary report by the National Transporation Safety Board said that Roper was traveling 20 mph over the speed limit and that he was almost at his drive time limit. The wreck left Morgan, 45, with broken ribs, a broken nose and a broken leg. His friend, comedian James McNair, was killed, and two others were injured. Roper pleaded not guilty to criminal charges that include vehicular homicide and assault by auto. The following month, Morgan filed suit against Walmart saying the company was negligent for not knowing that Roper had been awake for more than twenty-four hours at the time of the accident.
Last Monday, the company responded in a court filing by saying that the actor’s injuries were caused, in whole or in part, by his failure to wear a seat belt and that he and his friends had “acted unreasonably and in disregard of (their) own best interests.” Walmart’s filing also noted the possibility that the injuries may have been caused by third parties over whom it had no control.
Frankly, I have to agree that Morgan should shoulder some of the responsibility for his injuries if he chose to not wear a seat belt while a passenger on the New Jersey Turnpike. (In fact, New Jersey’s Seat Belt Law (NJS 39:3-76.2f) was amended to require all occupants to buckle up regardless of their seating position in a vehicle so he may have been breaking local law.) It seems common sense to me that we all should wear seat belts on the highways all of the time. Seat belts save lives.
On Tuesday of this week, the company released a statement that included less legalese and appeared to be softer than the earlier court filing.
“Walmart is committed to working to resolve all of the remaining issues as a result of the accident. As part of the ordinary course of legal proceedings, Walmart filed an initial response yesterday to the lawsuit that included facts and defenses that may impact the case moving forward. While we were required to respond to the lawsuit, we have also taken steps to encourage settlement discussions. Our thoughts continue to go out to everyone involved, and we remain committed to doing what’s right.”
I’m not a fan of WalMart and I haven’t been a fan of Tracy Morgan since his 2011 declaration during a Nashville stand-up performance that he would stab his son to death if he told him he was gay so I really don’t care who wins this lawsuit. I do, however, think it’s unfair to overlook the fact that these injured parties aren’t taking any responsibility for their own lack of common sense and I’d hate to see people stop wearing seat belts because of any example Morgan might be setting.
When Misti Risner killed Clyde and Carnie Newton it was “just another traffic accident”. Was this just an accident, too?
“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.” – Tracy Morgan, who has not specified the amount of damages he is seeking from Walmart, in a message to his fans.
I didn’t sign the petition this morning because I don’t think Walmart is really blaming the victims for the crash. I think everyone can agree that they, clearly, didn’t cause the crash. I do, however, think that Morgan and his friends should share in the responsibility for their injuries if they were not wearing seat belts.
What do you think? Is Walmart “blaming the victim” or should the passengers who didn’t wear seat belts be held partly responsible for their injuries?