OSHA fines ‘The Walking Dead’ production company in stuntman’s death

A zombie actor from the AMC series "The Walking Dead" approaches visitors at Comic-Con International 2017 in San Diego.
A zombie actor from the AMC series “The Walking Dead” approaches visitors at Comic-Con International 2017 in San Diego.
(Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration has fined the producers of hit AMC television show “The Walking Dead” in the death of a stuntman working on an episode of the show in Georgia last summer.

Stalwart Films LLC, the production company, was notified Friday that it was being fined $12,675 for failing to protect its workers after stuntman John Bernecker, 33, died from injuries resulting from a July fall.

OSHA proposed assessing the maximum allowable fine for a single citation of $12,675 for the production company’s failure to provide adequate protection for its workers. OSHA said it investigated Stalwart’s filming location in Senoia, Ga., after Bernecker fell more than 20 feet from a balcony onto a concrete floor, suffering a head injury.


His death was ruled an accident.

“This tragedy should serve as a wake-up call for the entertainment industry,” OSHA’s Atlanta regional administrator, Kurt Petermeyer, said in a statement. “The entire industry needs to commit to safety practices for actors and stunt people involved in this type of work.”

Stalwart Films, in a statement issued by AMC, said: “This was a tragic and terrible accident. We take the safety of our employees extremely seriously on all of our sets and comply with — and frequently exceed — industry safety standards. We disagree with the issuance of this citation and are considering our response.”

Bernecker was an experienced stunt performer, appearing in recent films including “Get Out,” “Logan” and “The Fate of the Furious.” His death was the second film-set fatality in Georgia in recent years.

A 2014 train accident outside Savannah, Ga., killed crew member Sarah Jones and injured seven others during the shooting of a Gregg Allman biopic, “Midnight Rider.”

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 a train trestle.

That accident touched off a worldwide campaign by film crew workers to promote greater safety on film sets.

Stalwart Films, which has offices in San Diego, has 15 business days to comply with the penalties, request an informal conference with OSHA’s area director or contest the findings before an independent Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission.

Though fatalities are rare, stunt work is inherently dangerous. Film- and TV-related deaths declined in the 1990s and early 2000s, thanks to ramped-up safety efforts by studios and production companies, plus the rise of digital effects replacing physical stunts.

However, a 2015 Times report revealed an increased number of fatalities during filming in recent years, with some industry experts blaming the need to get increasingly dramatic footage to stay competitive, especially in reality TV.

Locally, three people died in a 2013 helicopter crash in Acton during filming of a Discovery Channel military show, for example. A chopper collision in 2015 claimed 10 lives in Argentina during filming of an unscripted action adventure show.



4:30 p.m.: This article was updated with a statement from Stalwart Films.

This article was originally published at 3:55 p.m.