© American Movie Classics/ Courtesy: Everett Collection
Just over six months ago, John Bernecker, a stuntman working on the hit series The Walking Dead, passed away from injuries he sustained while filming a scene for the show’s eighth season. Now, his family, including his mother Susan, are suing The Walking Dead‘s network AMC and the production companies working on the series in a wrongful death lawsuit.
Bernecker’s family filed the lawsuit in Georgia state court on Tuesday, January 23 according to Entertainment Weekly.
“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 complaint reads. Referring to “AMC Parent, AMC Network, and AMC Holdings,” it further states that the defendants “put pressure on the production services company, Stalwart Films, to produce episodes of The Walking Dead as cheaply as possible. The AMC Defendants orchestrated and enforced a pattern of filming and producing The Walking Deadcheaply and, ultimately, unsafely.”
The complaint continues, “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.”
Following the lawsuit, AMC released a brief statement: “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.”
Following his death, it was revealed that Bernecker was filming a scene in which he fell more than 20 feet onto a concrete floor. In his mother’s lawsuit, she provides much more details about the circumstances surrounding her son’s death, stating that Bernecker was “to perform a stunt fall off of a 22-foot platform, transformed into a ‘balcony’ for the scene, over a makeshift railing,” the complaint reads. “The bars of the railing were partially covered on the outside by a piece of sheet metal.” According to the complaint, the scene was not rehearsed and the actor Bernecker was working with Austin Amelio, who plays Dwight, and Amelio was told not to touch Bernecker as he performed the stunt, but Amelio allegedly did touch him which “threw off the fall.”
“On the ground below, the only fall protection for the scene consisted of an area of padding made up of ‘port-a-pit’ pads on top of 22-inch cardboard boxes tied together by rope,” the document reads. “No air bags were used, nor were any spotters in place. The padding did not fully extend under the balcony.”
Other individuals and companies named in the complaint include episode director Larry Teng, executive producer and production manager Tom Luse, first assistant director Jeffrey January, stunt coordinator Monty Simons, key second assistant director Matthew Goodwin, Telltale Films, Powdered Drink Productions, January Lounge Productions, and Monster Action.