‘Midnight Rider’ Case: Director Randall Miller Anticipates Guilty Plea Will Be Set Aside

Midnight Rider Director
Amy Sussman/Getty Images

Director Randall Miller, serving a two-year jail sentence in Jesup, Ga., after pleading guilty in March for his role in the “Midnight Rider” train accident, is telling the movie’s insurer that he is anticipating that the plea will be set aside and that he is innocent.

The statement came in a letter filed in an ongoing dispute with the production’s insurance company ProSight, and one of ProSight’s writing companies, New York Marine. ProSight informed Miller and his production company, Unclaimed Freight, that the guilty plea triggers a policy exclusion for criminal acts.

In March, Miller pleaded guilty to charges of involuntary manslaughter and criminal trespass in the death of camera assistant Sarah Jones on Feb. 20, 2014. The movie had been shooting on a railroad trestle when a train came unexpectedly, killing Jones and injuring eight others. He was sentenced to two years in jail and eight years probation.

Charges against Miller’s wife, producer Jody Savin, were dismissed as part of a plea agreement.

But in a letter to ProSight’s attorneys, Miller’s counsel wrote that he “entered a guilty plea to save his wife, Ms. Savin, from criminal liability and to ensure that she could remain with their children in California. Mr. Miller contends that he is innocent, and disputes his guilt in this matter. Both Miller and his counsel, Ed Garland, contested some of the factual findings read into the record by the prosecutor, and Mr. Miller anticipates — and hereby informs ProSight — that his plea will be set aside.”

The judge in the criminal proceeding agreed to sentence him to Georgia first offender treatment, in which a person who has never before been convicted of a felony can serve a sentence and then be deemed not to have a criminal conviction.

In an amended complaint filed in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles, Miller and Savin’s Film Allman, the production company set up to make the movie, contends that the insurer settlement of claims in a civil suit filed by Jones’ family exhausted $5 million in insurance policy limits even though there was an offer from Rayonier Performance Fibers, another defendant in the civil litigation, to contribute $1 million to a settlement. That would have preserved the limits, they claim.

Instead, Film Allman claims that the insurer then informed them that, with limits exhausted, they had no further obligation to defend them against additional pending litigation filed by several injured crew members, as well as OSHA fines. They also contend that the insurer failed to pursue other avenues for coverage, like a worker’s compensation policy.

“ProSight’s actions in insisting on paying its full limits and rejecting contributions from co-defendants, for the sole purpose of ensuring exhaustion of its own policies to determine its duty to defend, violates its duty to act in good faith,” Film Allman’s attorney, Mary Craig Calkins, wrote in a March 23 letter.

Film Allman also contends that it refused to hire an independent counsel, while its appointed counsel had a conflict of interest, part of a “bad faith scheme to subject the insureds to criminal liability so that ProSight would not have to pay benefits to which the insureds were rightfully entitled.” They allege that the ProSight counsel advised Miller to admit liability to the Jones family during settlement negotiations.

Leon Gladstone, attorney for ProSight, wrote in a letter to Calkins that “on the record, Mr. Miller specifically agreed with the prosecutor’s recitation of the case. He then pled guilty and the judge accepted the plea and pronounced him guilty.”

He noted that Garland, Miller’s attorney, said that “the state could establish the essential elements of the crime as recited here.”

Gladstone added, “He went on to say that there were facts recited with which he disagreed but that he agreed that ‘[This] does not change the adequacy of the proof here to authorize the imposition of a verdict of guilty.'”

New York Marine’s attorney, Mark C. Goodman, said that the accusation that they exhausted limits to get out of further claims was a “gross mischaracterization of the facts.” In fact, he contends Rayonier, which was also insured by New York Marine, did contribute $1.5 million to the settlement, for a total of $6.5 million to the Jones family.

“It is not appropriate for your clients to expect New York Marine would continue to fund the defense of an action when it already paid its policy limits to settle a covered claim,” Goodman wrote. He also called allegations of conflicts of interest “absurd.”