The mother of a stuntman killed on the set of “The Walking Dead” filed suit on Tuesday, alleging that AMC put profits ahead of safety and skimped on the show’s stunt budget.
Susan Bernecker, his mother, alleges that a litany of errors led to her son’s death. She contends that AMC failed to provide adequate cushioning beneath the 22-foot balcony, did not ensure that the scene was rehearsed, and did not have an ambulance on scene.
“The AMC defendants orchestrated and enforced a pattern of filming and producing ‘The Walking Dead’ cheaply and ultimately unsafely,” the suit alleges. “As part of this emphasis, the AMC defendants pressured Stalwart Films to maintain unreasonably low budgets and expenses for episodes, including the budget allotted to stunts. Accordingly, the production of ‘The Walking Dead’ repeatedly cut corners on safety precautions.”
In a statement, AMC said it takes safety “extremely seriously” and complies with industry standards.
“Our thoughts and prayers are and have been with John Bernecker, his family, friends and everyone touched by this tragic accident since the moment it occurred,” AMC said. “We take the safety of our employees on all of our sets extremely seriously, and meet or exceed industry safety standards. Out of respect for the family, we will have no further comment on this litigation.”
“The Walking Dead” is shot in Senoia, Georgia. Susan Bernecker is represented by Jeffrey Harris, the Georgia-based attorney who represented the family of Sarah Jones, the camera assistant who was killed on the set of “Midnight Rider.”
In addition to AMC and Stalwart Films, the suit names as defendants Monty Simons, the stunt coordinator; Larry Teng, the director of the episode; Tom Luse, the unit production manager; Jeffrey January, the first assistant director; Matthew Goodwin, the second assistant director; and Austin Amelio, the actor who was with Bernecker on the balcony.
The suit alleges that Amelio was supposed to “shoot” Bernecker and “push” him off the balcony, but was not actually supposed to touch him during the scene. The suit alleges that Amelio actually did push him, but also grabbed the back of his clothing, changing the trajectory of his fall. The suit faults the producers for allowing Amelio to do the scene, instead of a stunt performer.