Insurers are fighting their responsibility to cover what Walmart paid the comedian.
A magistrate judge in New Jersey has ordered Tracy Morgan to comply with a subpoena and give insurers access to records pertaining to his health, earnings and public appearances.
The former Saturday Night Live and 30 Rock star suffered big injuries on July 7, 2014, when a Walmart truck driver crashed into his limo on the New Jersey Turnpike. Morgan and others injured later filed a negligence lawsuit against Walmart. The cases were later settled with Morgan and fellow comedian Ardie Fuqua receiving at least $90 million, according to our calculations based on court documents.
Ohio Casualty Insurance Company and Liberty Insurance Underwriters are challenging whether they have an obligation to fund what they consider to be an “exorbitant settlement.” According to their court filings, Walmart reacted to bad press by rashly settling with Morgan instead of conducting a thorough investigation of his injuries and career prospects. The insurers pointed out how Morgan, after settling, hosted Saturday Night Live and made other TV appearances including Jimmy Kimmel Live and The Tonight Show.
Meanwhile, Walmart has asserted counterclaims, defending its “extraordinary efforts” to keep insurers in the loop and talking about its exposure to bad press after the company notoriously asserted a seat belt defense.
The parties are in the midst of discovery, and the insurers have been demanding to know how much Morgan made five years prior to the NJ Turnpike incident. They also want tax returns, settlement communications with Walmart, independent medical exams, and “documents generated after the settlement that refer or relate to his appearing on national television shortly after the settlement, driving a Lamborghini in midtown Manhattan shortly after the settlement, Tracy’s Morgan’s ability to walk around midtown New York shortly after the settlement and his appearing at the Emmy Awards to make a presentation.”
Late last week, U.S. Magistrate Judge Lois Goodman approved a motion to enforce a subpoena on Morgan and Fuqua. The judge reviewed objections ranging from how the requested information could more reasonably be obtained from other sources to “vague, ambiguous, and incorrect” demands. He finds that Morgan and Fuqua (who are merely third parties in this dispute) haven’t properly served formal objections pursuant to civil procedure, and even if they did, the arguments have no merit.
Morgan has been given 20 days to produce responsive documents.