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

  • betty gilpin ann coulter

    'Impeachment: American Crime Story' Casts Betty Gilpin as Ann Coulter

    “GLOW” star Betty Gilpin is set to play Ann Coulter in “Impeachment: American Crime Story” at FX. News of Gilpin’s casting comes just one day after it was announced that Billy Eichner had been cast as Matt Drudge in the third season of “ACS,” which will tackle the impeachment of President Bill Clinton. Beanie Feldstein will [...]

  • Jim Jefferies

    NBC Orders Comedy Pilots From Jim Jefferies, 'Superstore' Creator Justin Spitzer

    NBC has picked up a pair of comedy pilots for the 2020-2021 season. The first is the multi-cam “Jefferies,” which will star Australian comedian Jim Jefferies as a fictionalized version of himself. Jefferies will also write and executive produce along with Suzanne Martin. Sean Hayes and Todd Milliner of Hazy Mills will also executive produce [...]

  • Kari Lizer

    ABC Orders Comedy Pilot From 'New Adventures of Old Christine' Creator

    ABC has picked up the multi-cam comedy pilot “My Village” from Kari Lizer. The project follows an empty-nester mom who wonders how she ended up alone while her children live their best lives thousands of miles away. She decides her place is with her family and as she reinserts herself into their lives, her kids [...]

  • Chuck Lorre77th Annual Golden Globe Awards,

    Chuck Lorre Comedy Pilot 'B Positive' Ordered at CBS

    Chuck Lorre is working on yet another project at CBS. The legendary “Big Band Theory” creator is an executive producer on the multi-cam comedy “B Positive,” which has received a pilot order at CBS. “B Positive” centers around newly divorced dad Drew, who is at the end of his rope when face when finding a [...]

  • Author Gill Hornby gives a talk

    Steve Coogan, Christine Langan's Baby Cow Options Gill Hornby Novel ‘Miss Austen’

    Steve Coogan and Christine Langan’s U.K. company Baby Cow Productions has optioned television rights to Gill Hornby’s new novel, “Miss Austen.” The critically acclaimed book – already lauded as one of the best novels of 2020 by The Times of London, Financial Times and BBC Online – follows the lives and loves of sisters Cassandra [...]

  • Shay MitchellHulu 'Dollface' TV Show panel,

    'Pretty Little Liars' Alum Shay Mitchell Sets Mob Drama Pilot 'The Cleaning Lady' at Fox

    Fox is adding a mob drama about a cleaning lady to its development slate. The network has issued a pilot order for “The Cleaning Lady,” a one-hour drama which hails from “Pretty Little Liars,” “Dollface” and “You” star Shay Mitchell via her Amore & Vita Productions banner. Based on the original Argentine series “La Chica [...]

  • Jim Lehrer

    Jim Lehrer, Longtime PBS Anchor, Dies at 85

    Jim Lehrer, the legendary journalist who helped set a high bar for TV journalism via his long-running program on PBS, died on Thursday at his home, according to the network. He was 85 years old. Lehrer was a correspondent for the Dallas Morning News who moved to TV reporting for the local public TV station, [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content