The family of 33-year-old John Bernecker, a stuntman who died during a stunt on the set of the popular TV show “The Walking Dead,” has filed a wrongful death claim against AMC (the show’s network) and other parties, according to Insurance Journal. In the filing, the victim’s mother, Susan Bernecker, said the show’s unreasonably low budget led to poor safety precautions.
Bernecker died in July after he fell on the set in Senoia, Georgia, which is around 35 miles south of Atlanta. The wrongful death claim alleges that AMC created and enforced a pattern of producing and filming the show as affordably as possible, and that pressured Stalwart Films, the production company, to keep expenses and budgets unreasonably low and cut corners on safety. Stalwart Films, other companies associated with them and AMC, the director and the stunt coordinator for that episode, and an actor who was shooting a scene with the victim at the time were all named as defendants in the case.
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AMC responded to the filing, issuing a statement that says they take employee safety on all sets very seriously and that they meet or exceed the safety standards set by the industry. They also offered their condolences to the Bernecker family.
Susan Bernecker also issued a release, saying she hopes the death of her son will lead to better safety standards for stunt performers in the TV and film industries. According to Bernecker, these industries are not doing enough when it comes to basic safety standards for stunt performers, and the performers themselves are afraid to speak out on the issue.
Stalwart Films was recently cited by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) for the fatal fall. The agency has proposed a $12,675 fine, which is the maximum allowed for one serious violation. The agency also said the production company could have used various methods to lessen the risk associated with stunts from high platforms.
Once a company receives a citation, it has 15 days to comply, request an informal meeting with the area director for OSHA, or contest the findings before the agency’s review commission. Stalwart, which disagrees with the citation, has scheduled an informal conference.
Assistant show director Matthew Goodwin, who is named in the lawsuit, told a responding police officer that the stuntman was to fall around 22 feet from a balcony and over a railing, landing onto a pad.
Austin Amelio was the actor with Bernecker at the time of the accident. He told responding officers that he asked the stuntman if he’d done a fall like that previously. Bernecker said he’d done some but never from that distance, and he seemed nervous to the actor. The filming started once Bernecker gave a thumbs-up to signal he was ready. He got mostly over the railing but appeared to try and stop his fall by grabbing onto it with both hands. Unfortunately, he collided with the balcony, lost his grip on the railing and went upside down as he fell, missing the pad by inches.
The loss of a loved one due to someone else’s negligence or intentional actions is never easy to deal with. If you’ve lost a loved one due to someone’s actions or inaction, speak to an experienced wrongful death attorney today.
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