AMC's The Walking Dead has been hit with a wrongful death lawsuit, over the passing of stuntman John Bernecker last summer. The late stuntman's mother, Susan Bernecker, filed a wrongful death lawsuit on late Tuesday in Georgia's Gwinnett County State Court, which names AMC Networks Inc., production company Stalwart Films and others as defendants, claiming that AMC pressured the show to keep the budget as low as possible, to maximize profits, which lead to cutting corners on safety procedures that ultimately lead to John Bernecker's death. Here's an excerpt from the lawsuit below.
"The production of Season 8 of The Walking Dead, like seasons before it, had an emphasis on keeping production budgets low and profits high. The Stewart Film defendants' numerous failures to take reasonable safety precautions were the direct result of the policies, pressure, and decisions from the AMC Defendants to produce The Walking Dead for minimum cost and maximum profit."
The stuntman's death occurred on July 12, after he fell 22 feet from a balcony while performing a stunt with Walking Dead series regular Austin Amelio, who plays Dwight, one of the Saviors on the hit series. The lawsuit alleges that Amelio was supposed to "shoot" the stunt performer and then "push" him over the balcony, although the actor was instructed not to actually touch him. During the performing of this scene, Amelio did touch him, causing Bernecker's momentum to change which lead him to fall under the balcony where there was no padding, landing on his head or shoulder area, causing the blunt force trauma that killed him. The lawsuit alleges that the stunt was never rehearsed before filming, and that the padding laid out for the stunt did not extend fully under the balcony. The series shut down production after the stuntman's death, but the show was back up and running just four days later. Here's another excerpt from the lawsuit below.
"As the ultimate decision-makers for The Walking Dead production, the AMC Defendants are each independently responsible for the failure of The Walking Dead production to take reasonable safety precautions to protect its performer, John Bernecker. Each of the Defendants had knowledge, actual or constructive, that the film of Season 8 of The Walking Dead, include Episode 807, was not being performed in a safe manner in accordance with industry standards."
When production resumed four days later, several cast members paid tribute to the late stuntman on social media, with the cast and crew heading to San Diego Comic-Con to release the Season 8 trailer and announce the premiere date. Along with AMC Networks, the lawsuit names actor Austin Amelio, Larry Teng, who directed the episode that the accident occurred in, the seventh episode of Season 8 entitled Time For After, Tom Luse, the unit production manager, Jeffrey F. January, the first assistant director, Matthew Goodwin, the second assistant director, Monty Simmons, the stunt coordinator and a number of production entities and corporations tied to the show. Here's what AMC had to say in a statement, responding to this lawsuit.
"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."
The lawsuit doesn't specify any damages the plaintiff is seeking, although the plaintiff is demanding a jury trial. This lawsuit comes at a time when the show's ratings are in decline, with the show's Season 8 mid-season finale, which featured the surprising death of Chandler Riggs' Carl Grimes, posting the second lowest mid-season finale ratings in show history, dropping 34% from the Season 7 fall finale. You can read more about the lawsuit, and read the full complaint filed in Georgia, over at Deadline.