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Comedian’s Family Settles with Walmart

Comedian James McNair’s family has settled with Walmart following McNair’s death in a car crash with a Walmart truck.  Tracy Morgan, who was also in the car crash and sustained traumatic brain injuries from it, has, to date, not settled with Walmart.  The lawsuits stemmed from an accident back in the summer of 2014, when Walmart employee Kevin Roper rear ended Tracy Morgan’s vehicle on the New Jersey turnpike, severely injuring Morgan and three others in the car, and killing McNair.  At the time, the Walmart employee was, according to some reports, driving 20 miles per hour over the speed limit.  According to NBC News, the Walmart driver has also been charged with death by auto and assault by auto, having not slept for more than 24 hours prior to the accident.  McNair’s lawsuit alleged negligent driving and wrongful death.

As we have already discussed on this blog, an employer is liable for damages stemming from the negligent acts of an employee, if the employee was acting “within the scope of employment” at the time. When considering whether an employee was acting within the scope of employment, courts might consider whether the employee’s acts were incidental to the employee’s work.  In this case, the facts were clear-cut, as the Walmart employee was driving a Walmart truck to an assigned destination.  For this reason the case has not involved disputes regarding whether Walmart is vicariously liable for the employee’s acts.   However in other cases, the facts are not so clear cut, and the Court has to consider whether the employer should have expected that the employee would be doing certain things as a result of the nature of his work.