Bernecker died in July 2017 after a 21-foot fall from a balcony. Last December, a jury found AMC’s corporate entity, TWD 8, and its production company, Stalwart Films, liable in his death.
The defendants appealed to the Third Division of the Georgia Court of Appeals, arguing that Bernecker should have been considered an employee, not an independent contractor. That would have forced Bernecker’s parents to go through Georgia’s workers’ compensation system, rather than getting a civil judgment.
A three-judge panel heard arguments on Thursday morning.
“Clearly Mr. Bernecker assumed the risk of his injuries,” said David Dial, arguing for the appellants. “He’s trained in fact to the assume the risk, and he assumed the risk.”
Dial argued that Bernecker’s contract repeatedly referred to him as an “employee,” and that the lower court should have relied on that in settling the issue.
Jeff Harris, representing Bernecker’s mother, urged the appellate judges not to second-guess the jury, which found that Bernecker was an independent contractor. Harris noted that Bernecker received a 1099 tax form, was paid through his loan-out company, was admitted on set as a “visitor,” and worked on a day-by-day basis for various productions.
“All of that screams ‘independent contractor,'” Harris said.
Harris also raised questions about whether Bernecker even signed the contract, noting that it was dated on a date when Bernecker was in the hospital in a coma.
“It was admittedly a complicated, convoluted factual mess that the jury had to sort out,” Harris argued. “The jury concluded he was an independent contractor.”
Chief Judge Chris McFadden seemed skeptical of Harris’ argument, asking him to cite documents aside from the contract that would support his case. The other judges were harder to read.