It made local and national news this week when the Walmart driver who caused comedian Tracy Morgan’s traumatic brain injury (TBI) entered into a plea deal in a New Jersey criminal court. Comedian James McNair was also killed in that accident, and other passengers in the car Morgan was riding in were injured.
The truck driver, Kevin Roper, will see no jail time if he successfully completes a pre-trial intervention program. Just a few days before that hearing, though, another legal issue related to the tractor-trailer crash played out much more quietly.
Less than a year after the fatal truck accident, Walmart settled claims with Morgan, each of the others injured in the crash, and the family of James McNair. Although the exact terms of the various settlements were not revealed, the total is estimated to be in the range of $100 million.
Roper came in just under the 14-hour federal limitation on shift-length (the accident occurred 13 hours and 27 minutes into his shift). However, the driver was alleged not to have slept for 28 hours, and the NTSB report indicated that the truck had been traveling at 65 mph in a 45-mph zone when it rear-ended Morgan’s vehicle, causing the limo van to strike another vehicle and roll.
Walmart v. Its Own Motor Vehicle Insurance Companies
Liability was clear, but when the retail giant sought reimbursement from its insurers, the company was in for a surprise. Insurance companies argued that Walmart had paid too much to settle the claims, Morgan’s in particular, in order to avoid adverse publicity. While insurers did eventually offer significant reimbursement, it took until just last week, a year and a half after the settlement.
Negotiating Truck Accident Claims
Although in this case it was the insured and not the personal injury victim that had to engage in a legal battle to get the insurance company to fulfill its obligations, it is representative of the insurance company mindset. They are, after all, in business to make money. The more and larger claims an insurance company pays out, the less profitable its business is. That often leads insurers to dig in their heels, or even to resort to dishonest tactics.
A company like Walmart, with good lawyers on its side, is well-equipped to fight those tactics. The average person who has been injured in a motor vehicle accident is not. Insurers know that their best opportunity to rush an injured person into a quick lowball settlement or to lead the victim to say things that may hurt his or her case is immediately after the accident. In those early days, an insurance company representative knows that:
- The injured party is feeling vulnerable and frightened, and may be worried about how to keep the bills paid during recovery
- A person who has suffered a serious injury may still be disoriented, or may be under the influence of medications
- A friendly voice promising to help is generally well received by someone who is sick, confused, frightened or otherwise feeling unequal to the task in front of him
Don’t be fooled. The insurance company representative’s job is not to help you. It is to save the company money.
When you retain a personal injury lawyer, on the other hand, the attorney’s one job is to put the law to work for you, protecting your interests and negotiating or arguing at trial for fair compensation that will help you get back on your feet. Don’t try to do it alone. Contact our office at (844) 469-5291 to schedule a free consultation, or fill out the contact form on the right-hand side of this page.