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Dealing with Movie Set Accidents in Georgia

By Grant Law Office on March 21, 2018

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Due to our tax incentives and a welcoming spirit, film and television is a growing industry in Georgia. Currently, there are 29 productions being filmed in the state. But, along with the glamour and revenue generated by film and TV production comes the very real danger of the reel industry.

Because of the high-speed car chases, explosions, and daring physical stunts associated with TV and film production, movie sets can be dangerous places. Everyone remembers the Twilight Zone: The Movie tragedy in 1982, when a helicopter rotor decapitated actor Vic Morrow and two child actors. It was later discovered that director John Landis had intentionally violated California child labor laws which forbade children from working at night. Landis and four other people involved in the production were later tried and acquitted of involuntary manslaughter.

Sadly, there have been two fatal movie set accidents in Georgia since 2014. The first occurred during the filming of Midnight Rider, the biopic about Gregg Allman, musician and founding member of The Allman Brothers Band. The crew was illegally filming on Doctortown railroad trestle when a CSX train approached. The crew scrambled to get off the trestle, resulting in many severe injuries and the death of second camera assistant Sarah Jones. The court later awarded the parents of the 27-year-old woman $11.2 million in damages, and the film’s director was sentenced to two years in jail for involuntary manslaughter. Several other members of the production staff were given probation.

Hopefully, Ms. Jones’ life was not lost in vain. Her parents subsequently set up the Sarah Jones Film Foundation, which advocates for safety on film sets.

Unfortunately, tragedy struck Georgia’s burgeoning production industry again last year, when a 33-year-old veteran stuntman, John Bernecker, was killed on the set of The Walking Dead. The stunt Bernecker was performing, a 22-foot fall, was a reasonably simple one by stuntman standards. John was supposed to land on an airbag, but missed it for some reason. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration investigated the incident and fined the show’s production company $12,675 for “failing to protect employees from fall hazards.” That amount is the maximum allowable fine for a single serious violation, and pales in comparison to The Walking Dead’s budget of roughly $2.75 million per episode. Bernecker’s mother is filing a civil lawsuit against the company, as well.

Because the stunt was so routine, many questions remain about the tragedy. One question is why it took 17 minutes for an ambulance to arrive, when a fire engine arrived within seven minutes of the accident. Questions have also been raised as to why Mr. Bernecker wasn’t evacuated by medevac helicopter until 30 minutes after the fall. It’s been speculated that Georgia may not have the necessary safety rules in place that more established filming states do have. In California, the presence of a medic or ambulance is required on set when stunts are being performed.

Film and TV production brings a lot of revenue to the Peach State, but the companies that film here have an obligation to keep their workers safe. If you’ve been injured on a film set, or at any place of work, you need to contact a Georgia personal injury attorney. The legal team at Atlanta’s Grant Law Office has more than 50 years of combined personal injury experience, and can answer any questions you may have. Call us for a free case evaluation at (404) 995-3955.

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