A wrongful death case involving a stuntman from “The Walking Dead” is going to trial, reports Variety (https://variety.com/2019/tv/news/john-bernecker-trial-amc-stuntman-walking-dead-summary-judgment-rulings-1203366199/).
AMC Network, which is the producer of the series, had argued in court that it couldn’t be held liable for the death of 33-year-old-stuntman John Bernecker, which happened on the show’s set in 2017, but a judge has rejected their claim.
The stuntman’s family filed a claim against the network in early 2018, alleging that the network had been cutting corners with safety precautions. A trial is now set to start in Georgia’s state court in Gwinnett County in early December.
In court paperwork filed in August, AMC took the position that the stuntman had control over the stunt and directed the placement of pads to cushion his fall. For the stunt, Bernecker flipped over a rail and fell 21 feet, narrowly missing the pads that had been laid down. He struck his head and later died at a local hospital. AMC had argued that under Georgia state law, the stuntman had assumed all the risk of the fall, so the network couldn’t be liable for what happened.
However, the Bernecker family countered that the stuntman was distracted because the other actor involved in the stunt had pushed him when he didn’t expect it, so he was not able to fully accept all of the risks.
Judge Emily Brantley’s recent ruling included a rejection of the argument from AMC, saying it was obvious that a jury would have to decide whether the stuntman had enough knowledge of the risks he faced to exclude AMC from liability.
AMC also argued that it was not liable because the actual production was handled by Stalwart Films, another company. However, Bernecker’s family says the network was ultimately the one responsible for the show, and they produced a safety manual made by AMC for “The Walking Dead” which states that AMC acknowledges its responsibility and accountability for a safe production.
Judge Brantley also ruled against AMC on this point, finding that the Bernecker family produced enough evidence of a connection between AMC and the show’s production to allow the case to go before a jury.
In addition, the judge denied AMC’s attempt to prevent Conrad Palmisano, a veteran stuntman, from testifying as an expert for the stuntman’s family.
Both parties have agreed that any punitive damages – compensation that is meant to punish a person or organization for their behavior to dissuade others from doing the same – will be capped at $250,000 under state law, since there was not a specific intent to cause Bernecker harm.
AMC issued a statement after the judge’s rulings were released saying their position was supported by the facts but they respect the court’s decision to allow the case to continue.
When a person or company behaves in a reckless, careless or negligent manner, it can lead to someone’s death. If you have lost a loved one due to the behavior of another person or entity, contact a wrongful death lawyer in Denver, CO about what happened.
Thanks to Richard J. Banta, P.C. for their insight into personal injury claims and “The Walking Dead” wrongful death claim.