A wrongful death lawsuit has been launched against AMC and The Walking Dead production company Stalwart Films over the death of stuntman John Bernecker during the shooting of season 8. Bernecker fell off the 22-foot high roof of a Sanctuary set on July 12th and missed a crash pad by inches. His mother Susan Bernecker had previously declared her intention to “seek justice” over the incident and shine a light on the lipservice paid to safety in Hollywood even as production companies scaled back the budgets for stunts.
“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 lawsuit reads. “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, including as it pertained to stunt performances.”
Stories of AMC slashing The Walking Dead‘s per-episode budget became famous after show creator and former showrunner Frank Darabont was fired, he claims, for fighting against their penny-pinching ways. The decision to film season 2 of the show almost entirely on the Greene farm was a result, and AMC execs went so far as to demand more indoor shooting and zombies that were heard but not seen to further slash production costs.
A court will decide if similar behavior went on regarding stunt safety, but there are some details in the lawsuit.
“On the ground below, the only fall protection for the scene consisted of an area of padding made up of a ‘port-a-pit’ pads on top of 22-inch cardboard boxes tied together by rope. No air bags were used, nor were any spotters in place. The padding did not fully extend under the balcony.
“Before filming, the fall was never rehearsed. While a medic was present at the filming location, there was no ambulance or medical transport at the filming location, contrary to industry standards.
“After John’s fall, there was no ambulance on site. It took over 30 minutes from the time of the fall before John was evacuated by helicopter for medical treatment. Ultimately, due to the delay in transport, it took roughly one hour after John’s fall before he was hospitalized for his injuries.
The lawsuit includes a 13-point list of other safety shortcomings that likely contributed to the death of Bernecker, and noted that the Occupational Safety and Health Administration had hit Stalwart Films with the maximum possible penalty after their investigation of the accident.
AMC’s response to the lawsuit denied wrongdoing, saying “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.”