Back in June, I wrote a short post on the fatal accident involving a Walmart truck plowing through traffic on the New Jersey Turnpike. It hit a charter bus carrying comedian Tracy Morgan and several of his friends and fellow comedians, including James McNair, who died in the crash. As I said then, “Walmart has responded with typical corporate doublespeak, promising to do ‘the right thing,’ at least to the extent the law forces them to do so.” Consider me jaded after enough years in this job: when a big corporation hurts someone and says they’ll do “the right thing,” they typically mean they’ll drag the injured person through years of litigation before paying as little as they can to resolve the claim.
Unsurprisingly, Morgan sued. Earlier this week, Walmart, represented by LeClairRyan, filed its Answer to Morgan’s Complaint, kicking off a firestorm with its “Eighth Affirmative Defense,” which alleged that Morgan’s and his friends’ injuries “were caused, in whole or in part, by plaintiffs’ failure to properly wear an appropriate available seatbelt restraint device.” Even Mashable, which is not known for its reporting on truck accident lawsuits, jumped into the fray. The Hollywood Reporter, Esq., has some more details about the Answer and the status of the case as a whole.
As Morgan said in a statement, “I can’t believe Walmart is blaming me for an accident that they caused.” Walmart responded, in turn, “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.”
In one sense, Walmart is right: its Answer is indeed the “ordinary course of legal proceedings” for every major corporation or insurance company that finds itself defending an injury lawsuit. But that just raises a bigger question: why do we allow for-profit companies to reflexively claim they’re unaccountable when they hurt people? When someone abdicates responsibility because they want to save money, I don’t consider that “ordinary,” I consider it blameworthy, deplorable, disgraceful, indefensible, and unacceptable.
Consider Walmart’s “First Affirmative Defense” and “Second Affirmative Defense:”
With those affirmative defenses, Walmart is claiming that, even if every word of the complaint is true — e.g., “Wal-Mart knew, or should have known, that Mr. Roper was awake for more than 24 consecutive hours immediately before the subject accident on June 7, 2014” — Morgan and his friends still can’t win their case.
And consider Walmart’s “Sixth Affirmative Defense:”
With that affirmative defense, Walmart is claiming that it was not required by law — i.e., had “no duty” — to make sure its drivers were well-rested, that its drivers followed the law, and that its drivers didn’t end up plowing through traffic, killing and maiming innocent occupants of other vehicles.
Walmart’s right: that’s the “ordinary course” of legal proceedings when a big corporation hurts people. The big corporation defends the case as viciously as possible, denying every allegation (even those it knows to be true) and delays the case as much as possible. Tracy Morgan isn’t being treated any differently from any of my clients, or any of the people injured every day by corporate greed and neglect.
The question isn’t why Walmart accused Tracy Morgan of contributing to his own harm, but why we tolerate that same sort of victim-blaming day in and day out?