Open Road Films Seeks Dismissal from ‘Midnight Rider’ Lawsuit

Midnight Rider Filmmakers Manslaughter

The film's executive producer Jay Sedrish (above, left) producer Jody Savin and director Randall Miller also are defendants in the case

Open Road Films, which was to be the distributor of “Midnight Rider,” is asking Georgia state judge to dismiss it from a civil lawsuit filed by the family of Sarah Jones, the camera assistant who was killed in the Feb. 20 train accident on the set of the movie.

The company said in a court filing in Chatham County State Court that there is “no causal connection between any conduct of Open Road and any alleged loss or damages plaintiffs contend they suffered.”

It also said that the action should be dismissed because the court lacks jurisdiction over Open Road, among a number of defenses it outlined in its brief.

The family of Sarah Jones filed a civil lawsuit against 18 defendants in May, claiming that the production failed to take reasonable, minimum safety precautions and failed to comply with applicable industry standards. The suit claims that the defendants knew they did not have permission to shoot on the CSX railroad tracks, where Jones was killed and six others were injured when a train came unexpectedly as the production was shooting on a train trestle.

In the family’s complaint, they contended that Open Road retained “individual responsibility for ensuring that ‘Midnight Rider’ filming was conducted in a safe and legal manner, in compliance with applicable industry standards.”

But Open Road’s filing outlines a long series of defenses, some them standard to a negligence suit, pointing to others’ responsibilities for the safety on the set. It contends that “intervening wrongful and/or criminal conduct of third persons was the immediate and effective cause of plaintiffs’ damages.”

The film’s director, Randall Miller, producer Jody Savin and executive producer Jay Sedrish also are defendants in the case. They are facing criminal charges of involuntary manslaughter and criminal trespass. Miller and Savin have plead not guilty, and Sedrish has not yet been arraigned.

In its answer to the civil lawsuit, Open Road also said that the family’s claim against it is barred because Jones “did not exercise ordinary care, caution and prudence in connection with the transactions and events alleged in the complaint.” It contends that the plaintiffs are barred from recovering damages against Open Road by the doctrine of contributory negligence, or that any damages must be “proportionately reduced” under the doctrine of comparative negligence.

“Plaintiffs’ claim is barred, in whole or in part, because Jones freely and voluntarily assumed the risk of injury and damage in the complaint,” Open Road said in its filing.

Open Road also filed a motion to stay discovery for 90 days until Nov. 6 to give the country time to hear its motion to dismiss.

Another defendant, WME BI Holdings, also asked to be dismissed from the case, contending that it is a holding company and “did not engaged in any of the activities” outlined in the Jones family’s complaint. WME was named in the suit as the loan out corporation for another defendant, cinematographer Mike Ozier.

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  1. Steve Baker says:

    These two ‘producers’ either have 10 years in the business and are stupid &/or willfully negligent, or they’re liars and are willfully negligent. A Court will find them guilty of negligent homicide. Bruce Cutler couldn’t get them off. What do I know? I’ve only made pictures for 35 years; I’d never, ever take a crew NEAR a RR w/o a permit, an on-site RR person w/comm to dispatch and a train schedule, look outs posted up & down the track w/ radios and clear capability to remain alert and focused. Anything short of that would be negligent and, if not criminal on its face, exposing the company and me to grave liability issues, in addition to the moral problem of knowingly putting a crew in jeopardy.

  2. camera guy says:

    I have worked on a few railroad shoots. The jobs I was on we had permission and were in contact with a rep form the railroad at all times we were on the tracks. Without a permit, one would think while working out on a trestle of a known active line, it would be prudent to have two spotters with a walkie a mile each way up/down the track from where you were shooting. Anything less than this is criminal… But in today’s America, this means to the producers two more paychecks to write.

  3. Production soundman of 30+ years says:

    There is an absolute connection between pressure put on a production company by a distributor to lower costs and liability for negligence by the distributor.

  4. Mark Rimmell says:

    I was part of a film crew that became ill on a foreign shoot..The Producer did not want to know..Not a word of sympathy…Not a note ….Merely a call to LA to replace me..Within 24 hours I was out !!!! That was 5 years ago..Thank God I did not die ..but I never worked agin.!!
    If one is looking for help and loyaltly the film industry is the last place to find it..
    I hope these people are found culpable..They certainly seem to be..

  5. Crew Member says:

    Open Road Films has tried to make it seem they were not very involved with this production.

    When Open Road Films signed on to be “partners” on this film on May 18, 2013 at the Cannes Film Festival there was not even a script written yet and it was still being refered to by the autobiography name, “My Cross to Bear”.

    Tom Ortenberg, CEO of Open Road Films said this in THR: “We are thrilled to have the opportunity to be a part of this movie. Gregg Allman’s story is fascinating and we are looking forward to working with Randall, Jody and Gregg to bring this project to theaters,”

    They seem to want to “pick” a production company like Unclaimed Freight Productions, with a well documented disrespect for laws, rules and safety, put the weight of the distribution with their parent companies Regal CInemas and AMC Theaters behind the film to allow them to finance and gain experienced cast, then run and hide and pretend they had nothing to do with it.

    I guess Open Road Films was just there to make the money if things went well, and drop and run if anything went wrong. Not ok.

    They helped create this tragedy, lets hope they are held accountable.

  6. I just read this report on the set death of Vic Morrow and two children while making the movie “The Twilight Zone”.

    One of the first tactics the defense used was to say the children accepted the responsibility for the situation that lead to their deaths. Sound familiar?

    read:
    http://www.crimelibrary.com/notorious_murders/not_guilty/twilight_zone/1.html

    • Steve Baker says:

      Twilight Zone was an industrial accident, unforeseeable. You’re just wrong. RR murdering producers are guilty of negligent homicide. The law defines these things. Reading and comprehending will clarify, should you care to try.

  7. I’ve watched enough legal shows on TV to know this is just standard lawyer stuff. They are trying to delay the inevitable day of judgment for their clients.

    IMHO, Sarah was working and doing what she was told to do and where to do it. Ultimately the production company has to take responsibility, especially if they were told they did not have permission to be on the tracks by the railroad.

    Set Safety for Sarah

    • Steve Baker says:

      Your knowledge of the law, based on tv show scripts is hilarious, stupid and self-deluding. Scripts are not required to obey the law; Courts are. Court found Landis et. al. innocent of wrong doing. Courts will find murdering RR producers guilty of negligent homicide. And the wrongful death suit filed by parents will bankrupt them & any agents & assigns who share liability.

  8. location man says:

    So Open Road is blaming Sarah Jones for her own death, by her making the decision to work on the film production that they backed? One might see where they had an argument to dismiss criminal responsibility, but to make this type of legal claim (subsequent to their own decisions to align with negligent filmmakers) shows a callousness that any judge with decent regard for human life should be able to see through.

    • Crew Member says:

      You are right, it is really repulsive that Open Road Films would claim Sarah Jones was at fault when there is already so many reports, including by William Hurt, that the crew was deceived by production into thinking it was safe and legal for them to be on the trestle.

      Picking and supporting a reckless Unclaimed Freight Productions was bad enough, now they want to pass the blame for Miller, Savin and Sedrish’s recklessness. Sad, truly sad.

  9. Lisa says:

    We live in an age where everybody needs someone to be at fault when bad things happen and serve only to help us change how we do things. Sometimes bad things just happen. I feel very bad for this young woman’s family, but the risks are there whenever you do something involving an active railroad…or even shooting a film. The responsibility for safety was in the hands of the 1st AD and the DP. If anything they should be the ones under fire and even they may have made a mistake but it doesn’t mean it was a liable act.

    • Crew Member says:

      Lisa,
      Also you may have missed that Mike Ozzier, the DP, and Hillary Schwartz, the 1st AD are right along side Open Road Films in the wrongful death lawsuit, among quite a few others. Any one of them could have stopped this tragedy from happening. It was clearly not an accident, it was clearly preventable in many ways, by many individuals and companies.

    • Crew Member says:

      LIsa,

      Sometimes bad things happen because people are criminally negligent. Maybe you missed the fact that Randall Miller, Jody Savin and Jay Sedrish, the producers of the film, have been indicted for criminal trespassing and involuntary manslaughter.

      Unclaimed Freight Productions had a track record of reckless behavior and still Open Road Films chose to back and support them. Even after the tragedy they were still supporting the film and said they would still release it. Despite the fact there was a massive backlash of crew against the restart, William Hurt quiting and Gregg Allman begging them to stop and then suing them to stop.

      All this while Open Road Films stood by Unclaimed Freight Productions and never withdrew their public support.

      Sometimes bad things happen because those with the power and resources choose to continue to support bad people.

    • Lisa says:

      *…when bad things happen when really it was only to help us change…”

      • JAY T says:

        So, Lisa how long have you worked for, or dated someone working for Open Road?
        Of course they are LEGALLY RESPONSIBLE for a death that occurred during their production. They didn’t even have permission to shoot on the tracks. Trying to pass the buck is not going to help them as they are not only financially on the hook, but they are CRIMINALLY responsible for this woman’s death. To claim anything to the contrary is utter nonsense. And blaming the victim for her own death is beyond disgusting, a camera operator’s responsibilities do not include securing permits and safety on location.

  10. Diane says:

    Nobody seems to want to take responsibility for this young woman’s death. I hope that the law enforcement and judges find in favor of the family. There were other people that were hurt also. I read that Greg Allman didn’t want to be involved, because he didn’t want the movie made. One of the actors had left the movie before this happened, so there were problems from the start.

    • Crew Member says:

      Diane,
      Gregg Allman did not oppose the film until after the tragedy and there was massive oppostion to the decision to restart the film in LA. Allman, via his agent, actually sought out Randall Miller and Jody Savin and encoraged them to make a film about his life.

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