The mother of a stuntman who fell to his death last year while working on the hit TV series “The Walking Dead” has filed a wrongful death lawsuit against cable network AMC. The suit alleges that the fall wasn’t properly rehearsed and that the production cut corners in terms of safety while failing to follow industry safety standards.
John Bernecker, 33, was killed on the Georgia set of “The Walking Dead” on July 12 while shooting a scene for the series’ eighth season. His mother, Susan Bernecker, filed the suit Tuesday in state court in Gwinnett County, Ga.
The suit alleges that AMC “orchestrated and enforced a pattern of filming and producing ‘The Walking Dead’ cheaply and, ultimately, unsafely.” It also claims that AMC pressured Stalwart Films LLC, which produces the show, to maintain “unreasonably low budgets and expenses,” including an “unreasonably low budget” for stunt performances during the season.
AMC said in a statement: “Our thoughts and prayers are and have been with John Bernecker, his family, friends and everyone touched by this tragic accident since the moment it occurred. We take the safety of our employees on all of our sets extremely seriously, and meet or exceed industry safety standards. Out of respect for the family, we will have no further comment on this litigation.”
John Bernecker died while performing a 22-foot fall off a balcony. The suit alleges that he fell to a part of the ground that wasn’t padded or protected, suffering blunt force trauma and other severe injuries. It claims that there was no ambulance on site and that it took 30 minutes from the time of the fall until he was evacuated by helicopter for medical treatment.
The stuntman’s mother alleges in her complaint that Stalwart Films failed to properly execute the stunt by failing to provide adequate padding on the fall area and failing to adhere to industry standards.
She is seeking unspecified damages for her son’s death as well as punitive damages.
Earlier this month, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration fined Stalwart Films $12,675 for Bernecker’s death, which was ruled an accident.
Fatalities on TV and movies sets are rare, but the entertainment industry has been grappling with a handful of recent deaths. In August, stuntwoman Joi “S.J.” Harris died after performing a motorcycle stunt for the superhero sequel “Deadpool 2” in Vancouver, Canada.
Two crew members of the Tom Cruise movie “American Made” died in a plane crash during production in Colombia in 2015.
In 2014, crew member Sarah Jones was killed during the shooting of a Gregg Allman biopic, “Midnight Rider,” in Georgia.
In that case, OSHA fined the producers of “Midnight Rider” $74,000 over the death of Jones, a 27-year-old camera assistant who was killed when a freight train slammed into the crew as they were filming a scene on a train trestle. That accident touched off a worldwide campaign by film crew workers to promote greater safety on film sets.