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Judge Sides With Insurer for Denial of Coverage to ‘Midnight Rider’ Filmmakers

A federal judge is rejecting efforts by the production company behind “Midnight Rider” to collect an insurance claim stemming from the Feb. 20, 2014 train accident on the set that killed camera assistant Sarah Jones and injured eight others.

U.S. District Judge Otis Wright, in a decision issued on Thursday, ruled in favor of New York Marine and its contention that the insurance policy was voided because of an exclusion covering criminal acts. The director of the movie, Randall Miller, served a year in jail in Jesup, Ga., after he plead guilty to charges of criminal trespass and involuntary manslaughter. His wife, producer Jody Savin, was also charged, but those charges were dropped as part of a plea agreement.

Wright wrote that there was “no genuine dispute or ambiguity concerning the policy’s criminal act exclusion.”

He wrote that the court “determines that Film Allman’s employees entered onto the land in question. That the film crew was present on the train tracks is not disputed; indeed, the train accident in question could not have happened but for the crew’s presence on the tracks.”

Film Allman, owned by Miller and Savin, had sued New York Marine, claiming that the insurer improperly denied coverage and assigned them an attorney for civil litigation who had a conflict of interest. They also sought to amend their lawsuit to add additional claims with the recent discovery of facts.

In October, Film Allman contended that “the facts leading to the loss are far more nuanced than as presented by” New York Marine.

They cite evidence that before the accident, two passing CSX train crews “saw the film crew on and by the track and never reported it to their dispatch.” They also note that the engineer and conductor of the train that struck the set “saw that 20 people were on the trestle from 3/4 miles away, and never applied brakes of any kind to slow the train, which violated CSX’s own rules.”

The filmmakers, who are represented by Douglas Gastelum, also are raised doubts about whether they were even denied permission — or even if CSX actually owned or had authority over the tracks.

But Wright rejected Film Allman’s effort to amend their lawsuit, but said that Miller and Savin can pursue actions separately against the insurer.

He wrote that the “evidence shows that Film Allman employees knew that they had been denied permission to film on the tracks” prior to the accident.

He added that “without the crew’s unauthorized presence on the tracks, the accident would not have occurred. Any argument to the contrary regarding causation is illogical.”

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