Judge Rules Against AMC in ‘Walking Dead’ Stuntman Death

A judge has rejected AMC Networks’ claim that it cannot be held responsible for the death of John Bernecker, a stuntman who fell to his death on the set of “The Walking Dead” in 2017.

Bernecker’s family filed suit in January 2018, alleging that the network cut corners on safety precautions. A trial is scheduled to be begin in state court in Gwinnett County, Ga., on Dec. 9.

In motions filed in August, attorneys for AMC argued that Bernecker was in control of the stunt, and directed the placement of pads that would cushion his fall. Bernecker flipped over a railing and fell 21 feet, just missing the pads. He landed on his head, and died the next day at a hospital. AMC argued that under Georgia law, Bernecker had assumed the risks of the fall, and therefore AMC could not be held liable.

“While his death is undoubtedly tragic, under controlling Georgia law, the affirmative defense of assumption of the risk bars Plaintiffs’ claims against each of the Defendants because Bernecker, a professional stuntman, understood and appreciated the dangers and risks associated with the high fall and voluntarily attempted the stunt without coercion,” the AMC attorneys wrote.

Attorneys for Berneckers’ parents argued that Bernecker was distracted because the other actor in the scene pushed him unexpectedly, and that therefore Bernecker could not have fully accepted the risks.

In a ruling on Tuesday, Judge Emily Brantley rejected AMC’s argument, saying it was “patently obvious” that a jury will have to determine whether Bernecker had sufficient knowledge of the risks to make AMC immune from liability.

AMC also argued that it cannot be held liable because the production was handled by another company, Stalwart Films.

“There is no evidence to support a finding that the AMC Defendants owed Bernecker a legal duty of any kind,” AMC’s attorneys argued in a motion for summary judgment. “The AMC Defendants did not have any relationship, contractual or otherwise, with Bernecker. The AMC Defendants also did not direct or control the method and manner in which Bernecker’s stunt was performed.”

In response, the plaintiffs argued that AMC was ultimately responsible for the show. They also pointed to a safety manual created by AMC for the show, which stated, “AMC is a company that acknowledges our accountability and responsibility for safe production.”

Brantley ruled against AMC on Oct. 2, finding that the plaintiffs had shown sufficient connection between AMC and the production to allow the matter to go before a jury. Brantley also rejected AMC’s bid to prevent the plaintiffs’ expert, veteran stuntman Conrad Palmisano, from testifying at trial.

The parties have agreed that punitive damages in the case are capped at $250,000 under Georgia law, as there was no specific intent to cause harm.

AMC issued a statement in response to the rulings:

“This was a tragic accident,” the company said. “While we continue to believe our motions for summary judgment were appropriate and supported by the facts in this case and the law, we respect the Court’s decision — without making any determination on the merits of either side’s arguments — to allow the case to proceed.”

More TV

  • Ted Sarandos Netflix

    Ted Sarandos: Netflix Is Why 'Friends,' 'The Office' Remain So Popular

    In an onstage conversation with Katie Couric at Vanity Fair’s New Establishment Summit on Wednesday, Netflix chief content officer Ted Sarandos waved away concerns over the streaming service’s upcoming loss of “Friends” and “The Office,” instead focusing on the company’s push in original programming and its international content growth. “One of the reasons ‘Friends’ and [...]

  • Castle Rock -- "Let The River

    'Castle Rock' Boss on Annie Wilkes' Origins, Telling an Immigration Story in Season 2

    SPOILER ALERT: Do not read if you have not yet watched the first three episodes of “Castle Rock” Season 2, streaming now on Hulu. When “Castle Rock” co-creators and executive producers Dusty Thomason and Sam Shaw were first researching Maine to develop their Hulu anthology series based on the world of Stephen King, something that [...]

  • 'Adventure Time': HBO Max Orders Four

    'Adventure Time': HBO Max Orders Four One-Hour Specials

    Less than a week after announcing its historic deal with Studio Ghibli, HBO Max is continuing its push into animation. The forthcoming streamer has ordered four one-hour “Adventure Time” specials from Cartoon Network Studios, the first two of which will debut exclusively on HBO Max in 2020. Collectively titled “Adventure Time: Distant Lands,” the specials [...]

  • Euphoria HBO

    'It's an Explosion': Inside the Rising Costs of Making a Scripted TV Series

    When Apple TV plus launches on Nov. 1, it will do so with what’s arguably the most expensive new-series lineup in TV history. Among the streamer’s initial offerings are the drama “The Morning Show,” bearing a price tag believed to be more than $15 million an episode, and the dystopian sci-fi series “See,” which is [...]

  • Peter Coyote, winner of the award

    Peter Coyote to Play Robert Mueller in CBS Studios James Comey Miniseries

    The CBS Studios miniseries based on James Comey’s  book “A Higher Loyalty: Truth, Lies and Leadership” has added another player. Robert Coyote has boarded the show to play Robert Mueller, Comey’s predecessor in the role of FBI Director, who was appointed to lead an investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election. His final [...]


    Wall Street Trims ViacomCBS Forecasts After Post-Deal Financial Disclosure

    Top media analysts have cut their short-term growth prospects for ViacomCBS following last week’s financial disclosures that came as part of the closing of CBS Corp.’s stock-swap takeover deal for Viacom. In the Oct. 17 filing, CBS Corp. released specific year-to-year projections for its free cash flow yield, guidance that the company has not offered [...]

  • CBS

    CBS Sets Six Participants in 2019-20 Writers Mentoring Program

    CBS has announced the six writers who will participate in its 2019-2020 Writers Mentoring Program. The eight-month mentoring program, set up in 2004, aims to provide access and opportunity for writers by pairing them with a CBS executive mentor who helps them develop a new piece of material. Following the mentorship period, the writers will [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content