ATLANTA (CN) — The mother of a stuntman killed on the set of “The Walking Dead” claims in court that AMC Networks and others involved in the production of the hit show put profits ahead of safety and skimped on the show’s stunt budget.
Stuntman John Bernecker died on July 12, 2017, after falling head-first onto a concrete floor from a height of about 22 feet.
In a complaint filed in Gwinnett County Court on Jan. 23 Susan Bernecker claims her son's death was caused by a series of negligent acts and errors, including but not limited to a failure to provide adequate cushioning beneath the 22-foot balcony, a lack of adequate of rehearsal for the scene being filmed for an episode titled "Time For After," and not having an ambulance on scene.
“The AMC defendants orchestrated and enforced a pattern of filming and producing ‘The Walking Dead’ cheaply and ultimately unsafely,” the complaint states. “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.”
As recounted in the complaint, in the scene being film, actor Austin Amelio, playing the character Dwight, was supposed to "shoot" or "push" Bernecker over the railing of a balcony without actually touching him.
The stuntman's mother claims the scene was never fully rehearsed, and that as it was being film, Amelio actually did touch Bernecker.
The complaint does not say this is what caused Bernecker's accidental death. What it does say is that as the stuntman fell -- propelling himself off a wooden box -- his trajectory was off and he landed head-first on the concrete directly beneath the balcony, rather than on the padding on which he was supposed to fall.
Bernecker says because there was no ambulance on set, more than thirty minutes elapsed before her son could be evacuated by helicopter. John Bernecker died of his injuries later that day.
A representative for AMC provided the following statement in response to a request for comment:
“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. 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.”
Susan Bernecker seeks damages for negligence and wrongful death. She is represented by Harris Lowry Manton LLP, of Savannah, Ga., and Mahaffey Pickens Tucker LLP, of Lawrenceville, Ga.
Defendants include Stalwart Films LLC, TWD Productions VIII LLC, AMC Film Holdings LLC, AMC Network Entertainment LLC, AMC Networks Inc. and Austin Amelio.
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