×

‘Walking Dead’ Stuntman Wrongful Death Trial to Begin in Georgia

A trial will get underway Tuesday in a Georgia courtroom to determine whether AMC Networks was at fault in the death of “Walking Dead” stuntman John Bernecker.

Bernecker’s parents, Susan and Hagen Bernecker, accuse the network of cutting corners and ignoring its own safety standards, leading to their son’s death. Bernecker died in July 2017, after falling 22 feet from a balcony and landing on his head and neck on a concrete floor. AMC has denied responsibility, saying that Bernecker’s death was an “unforeseeable accident” caused by his own negligence.

Susan Bernecker will be represented by Jeffrey Harris, the Savannah attorney who also represented the family of Sarah Jones, the camera assistant who was killed on the set of “Midnight Rider” in 2014. In that case, Harris won an $11.2 million verdict.

In the “Walking Dead” case, Harris is expected to argue that Monty Simons, the stunt coordinator, used an unsafe set-up for the stunt, despite knowing from a prior stunt that the arrangement was inadequate. The plaintiffs also allege that Austin Amelio, an actor in the scene, touched Bernecker just before the fall, against instructions not to do so.

The defense maintains that Bernecker voluntarily accepted the risks of the fall, and personally approved the “catcher” system of pads that was used in the stunt. According to a pre-trial memo, Bernecker told Simons to move the pads just before the stunt, and gave a thumbs up. The defense contends that Bernecker grabbed a railing for unknown reasons, which changed the trajectory of his fall and caused him to land underneath the balcony.

AMC is also arguing that it contracted out the production of the show to Stalwart Films, and that AMC therefore is not responsible for Bernecker’s death. The plaintiffs contend that AMC exercised control over the show’s budget, including its budget for stunts, and that AMC provided the show’s safety manual.

The jurors will also be asked to determine whether Bernecker was an employee of Stalwart Films or an independent contractor. Stalwart Films contends that he was an employee, and that therefore his family’s only recourse under Georgia law is the workers’ compensation system. The defense also claims that Amelio and Simons are likewise immune from liability as co-employees. The plaintiffs claim that Bernecker was an independent contractor.

The trial, in Gwinnett County court, is expected to last about 7-8 days.

More Biz

  • Shanghai Disneyland

    Shanghai Disneyland Closes in Response to China Virus Outbreak

    Shanghai Disneyland will close its doors Saturday as a reaction to the spread of a form of coronavirus that has now killed 26 people in mainland China. The resort complex, which normally operates 365 days per year and welcomes more than 10 million visitors annually, announced Friday afternoon local time that it will shutter the [...]

  • Why the Oscars, Emmys Shouldn't Try

    Grammys Deny Allegations of ‘Rigging’ Nominations

    Among the many allegations in ousted Recording Academy chief Deborah Dugan’s bombshell complaint Tuesday was a claim that the nominations are marred by what she has described as “rigging.” The example in the complaint points to the 2019 Best Song category, where an unidentified artist who was represented by a board member moved from the [...]

  • Annabella Sciorra

    Weinstein Lawyer Aims to Poke Holes in Annabella Sciorra's Account

    Harvey Weinstein’s defense attorney sought to poke holes in Annabella Sciorra’s testimony on Thursday, highlighting her training as an actor in a bid to undermine her credibility. Attorney Donna Rotunno had previewed that line of argument in a CNN interview before the trial, which prompted the prosecution to accuse her of disparaging the witness. “In [...]

  • Lindsey Elfenbein Variety

    Lindsey Elfenbein Promoted to Variety's Managing Director, Global Summits and Strategic Partnerships

    Variety has promoted Lindsey Elfenbein to managing director, global summits and strategic partnerships. Elfenbein joined the trade publication in 2014, where she has exponentially grown the conference business. Elfenbein is responsible for driving global revenue across Variety’s summit series. Her contributions have led to the creation of new ventures including the Silicon Valleywood Summit with [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content