Entertainment Weekly reports that a jury in Georgia has awarded the family of John Bernecker, a stuntman on the hit TV show “The Walking Dead,” $8.6 million in damages related to his death from an on-set accident (https://ew.com/tv/2019/12/19/jury-awards-8-million-walking-dead-stuntman-family-wrongful-death-trial/).
AMC, the network that carries the show, was not found negligent or liable in the stuntman’s death. However, the jury did find that Stalwart Films, “The Walking Dead” production company, and several crew members–including John Bernecker himself–who were responsible for overseeing the stunt’s filming bore some responsibility for his death.
Bernecker died as a result of an accident on set during the filming of an episode for Season 8 in July of 2017. An experienced stuntman, 33-year-old Bernecker was supposed to take a fall over a railing on a balcony and land onto a crash pad in place below. Unfortunately, the young stuntman missed the pad and accidentally swung inward, underneath the balcony, and fell over 20 feet to a cement floor instead. Following the accident, Bernecker was rushed to the Atlanta Medical Center and died the next day from the injuries he sustained.
The family’s representation issued a statement saying they hoped the verdict, in this case, sent a message that film safety standards need to be improved and always followed to prevent tragedies such as this one. According to the statement, the stuntman’s death was entirely preventable and resulted from a series of failures related to safety.
AMC Networks also issued a statement taking the position that there were no winners or losers in such a tragic situation. According to AMC, “The Walking Dead’ set is safe and always met or exceeds the industry guidelines and standards related to stunts and their safety. The AMC statement also mentioned that this has been the only major accident across the production of ten seasons, with more than 150 episodes, and is, therefore, an isolated incident.
Bernecker’s family first sued AMC on behalf of his estate in the early part of 2018, asking for up to $100 million in damages. Former “The Walking Dead” actor Austin Amelio–who starred as “Dwight” on the series and is now part of the spinoff show “Fear the Walking Dead”–was also named in the lawsuit. According to court documents, the family contended that Amelio touched Bernecker during the stunt, which altered his fall trajectory. The jury did not find that Amelio bore any responsibility for the accident, however, and they also did not award the family of the stuntman any punitive damages, which are court awards meant to punish a person or entity for their reckless or negligent behavior.
Reportedly, the $8.6 million-dollar award will be covered by the production company’s insurance.
When the reckless or negligent behavior or actions of a person or entity result in the death of someone else, they can and should be held liable for what happened. If you have lost someone due to another party’s actions or lack thereof, be sure to contact a wrongful death attorney from Denver, CO about the case.
Thank you to the experts at Richard Banta, P.C. for their input into insurance fraud.