The mother of a stuntman who fell to his death on the set of “The Walking Dead” in Georgia has filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the show’s network and other Defendants. It’s contended in the lawsuit, that unreasonably low budgets led to inadequate safety precautions. John Bernecker, 33, died on July 12 from injuries suffered in a fall on the set in Senoia.
The lawsuit filed last month by Susan Bernecker in Gwinnett County State Court says AMC Networks Inc. “orchestrated and enforced a pattern of filming and producing ‘The Walking Dead’ cheaply and, ultimately, unsafely.” It’s further alleged that AMC pressured production company Stalwart Films to keep budgets and expenses unreasonably low, leading Stalwart Films to cut corners on safety measures. The lawsuit also names other companies associated with AMC and Stalwart Films, as well as the director and stunt coordinator for the episode that was being shot. An actor who was shooting a scene with Bernecker is also a Defendant.
Susan Bernecker said in a press release that she hopes her son’s death will lead to improved safety standards for stunt performers in the film and television industries. She stated:
My goal is to do everything I can to protect other stunt performers and to ensure their safety on the set in the future. The industry is not doing enough to maintain basic safety guidelines for these performers. Worst of all, they’re scared to speak up.
In early January, the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) cited Stalwart Films in Bernecker’s fatal fall. The agency proposed a fine of $12,675, the maximum allowable fine for a single serious violation, for “failure to provide adequate protection from fall hazards.” OSHA said the company could have used several methods to reduce the risk from stunts on high platforms. In a statement after the citation was issued, Stalwart Films said it disagreed with the citation and called Bernecker’s fall “a tragic and terrible accident,” saying it meets or exceeds industry safety standards on its sets.
Reportedly, Matthew Goodwin, an assistant director who is named as a Defendant in the lawsuit, told a responding officer that Bernecker was supposed to fall about 22 feet (7 meters) from a balcony over a railing onto “a pad made of a layer of 22-inch boxes, port-a-pit pads, and a large pad.” This comes from a report by the Coweta County Sheriff’s Office. Austin Amelio, who is also named as a Defendant in the lawsuit, was the only actor on the balcony with Bernecker at the time of the fall. The report says he told the same officer that he had asked Bernecker if he had ever done a fall like that before. Reportedly, the stuntman said he had done a few, but never from that high up. Amelio told the officer that Bernecker “seemed a little nervous.”
Filming began after Bernecker gave a thumbs-up to signal he was ready, Goodwin said. Bernecker got most of the way over the railing and then appeared to try to stop the fall by grabbing the railing with both hands, but he hit the balcony, causing him to release his grip and spin upside down as he fell, the report said. Bernecker landed a few inches from the pad.
The lawsuit asks for a jury trial and seeks punitive and compensatory damages, as well as attorney fees. Susan Bernecker is represented by Jeff Harris, who had represented the parents of another film worker, Sarah Jones, who was killed on a Georgia railroad trestle in 2014 during the shooting of a movie about singer Gregg Allman. In that case, CSX Transportation was ordered to pay $3.9 million in damages to Jones’ parents. CSX lawyers blamed filmmakers who were denied permission by CSX to shoot on its tracks. Film director Randall Miller served a year in jail for the death of Ms. Jones.
Source: Associated Press