The family of John Bernecker, the stuntman who tragically died during a fall while filming an eighth season episode of The Walking Dead, has been awarded $8.6 million by a jury in Georgia. Bernecker died in 2017 after a stunt in which he was supposed to fall over a balcony failed. He unfortunately grabbed onto the railing of the balcony, which altered his trajectory, causing him to miss the crash pad 22 feet below by inches. Bernecker landed on his head and died two days later of head-and-neck injuries.
The trial found that AMC the network was not liable, but that the production company for The Walking Dead, Stalwart Films, was negligent and liable, along with several production crew members and even Bernecker himself, who was found minimally liable. The $8.6 million verdict, however, will all be paid out by insurance companies. Bernecker’s mother, Susan Bernecker, had hoped for millions more in punitive damages, but the jury apparently did not find the negligence of Stalwart Films or the various production members to be egregious.
AMC, which had argued that Bernecker’s accident was due to Bernecker’s own mistake, released a statement after the verdict insisting that “the set of The Walking Dead is safe, and is regularly evaluated to ensure that it adheres to all industry standards and guidelines related to stunts and stunt safety, notwithstanding this very sad and isolated accident.” Jeff Harris, who represented Bernecker’s family, stated afterwards that “John’s tragic and preventable death happened as a result of a series of safety-related failures. Learning from these failures will go a long way in making sure that similar tragedies do not happen to another performer or another family.”
It was the first death of a stuntman performing performing a fall in 17 years, according to Harris.