NEW YORK CITY — The family of a comedian friend of Tracy Morgan who was killed last June when a Wal-Mart truck crashed into a luxury van he was riding in got $10 million from the retail giant to settle a lawsuit, DNAinfo New York has learned.
Wal-Mart made the large payout to the family of James McNair to avoid potential losses from litigation, the McNair family's lawyer said in court papers.
Under the settlement, McNair's two children, Jamel, 26, and Denita, 19, will split the payout after their lawyer, Daryl Zaslow, takes a nearly $3 million cut, according to court records.
The children had sued Wal-Mart after one of its trucks slammed into a limousine van carrying McNair, Morgan and other comedians on the New Jersey Turnpike on June 7, 2014.
New Jersey police charged the truck's driver, Kevin Roper, with death by automobile and four other vehicle assault charges.
The McNairs signed the settlement in October, but the deal wasn't announced until January. At the time, the terms of the settlement were not revealed because of a confidentiality agreement both sides signed.
But legal documents filed last month in Westchester Surrogate's Court revealed the big payout to James McNair's estate — and that Wal-Mart did not want the settlement sum publicized for fear it would hurt business.
"Both Wal-Mart and the estate of James McNair feel that financial damage could result to Wal-Mart if the terms of settlement are revealed," the McNair's attorney, Zaslow, said in a filing submitted to the surrogate's court to obtain the judge's approval on the settlement. A Westchester judge had to sign off because McNair lived in Peekskill, N.Y.
Zaslow said securing the substantial payout wasn't easy, considering James McNair — who grew up in Brooklyn with Morgan and performed with him at the Uptown Comedy Club in Harlem — didn't make much money and died instantly in the crash.
The 62-year-old comic made a living working part-time at the Salvation Army in between stand-up and writing gigs.
"In short, he had no meaningful past income to project a significant lost-wage claim," Zaslow wrote in his filing.
Zaslow said that Wal-Mart agreed to settle for the large amount because he used the potential losses the retail chain faced from the highly publicized lawsuit as leverage.
"Although many of my colleagues insisted that the strategy would not be successful, and for many months of negotiations this assessment of damages was not being entertained by counsel for Wal-Mart, through months of heated negotiations, [I] was able to convince Wal-Mart to view the damages through this rather unorthodox approach," Zaslow wrote in his filing.
He added that the "$10 million settlement is a truly outstanding result."
In an affidavit made as part of the legal filing, Denita McNair praised her lawyer for obtaining the settlement.
"While no amount of money could replace my father, the amount of money Mr. Zaslow was able to obtain again greatly exceeds anything I imagined and I could not be more grateful," she wrote.
Wal-Mart spokesman Randy Hargrove declined to discuss the terms and conditions of the settlement.
"We deeply regret the loss of Mr. McNair as a result of the accident, but Walmart worked closely with his family to ensure their well-being," he said.
"Walmart will continue to work to conclude all other remaining issues, and we’re committed to doing what’s right."
Zaslow declined to comment.
Morgan, who suffered a brain injury in the crash, is currently suing Wal-Mart.