The trial over the death of a stuntman on AMC's long-running The Walking Dead has reached a verdict. After John Bernecker fell to his death on the Senoia, GA set of the show in July 2017, the jury has awarded a $6.8 million settlement. TWD 8, an AMC entity, along with its production wing, Stalwart Films were found to be negligent in Bernecker's death. The parent company, AMC, was deemed not liable.
"There’s a total failure of the checks and balances that should have been in place to prevent this tragedy from happening,” attorney Jeffrey Harris said during his closing argument. "There are policies that just aren’t followed. That is ultimately what results in his death."
The accident was shown to the jury frame-by-frame, where Bernecker was going to fall over a railing and safely on a pad 21 feet below. When enacted, Bernecker grabbed onto the railing with his left hand as he flipped over, changing his trajectory, causing him to swing back towards the wall. He missed the mark by nine feet, and landed head-first on a concrete floor. He died at the hospital two days later.
Actor Austin Amelio, who played Dwight on The Walking Dead, as well as its spinoff, Fear the Walking Dead, also took the stand. Since he was sharing the scene with Bernecker, he was questioned if he may have touched the stuntman that led to his fatal fall.
"I was in complete and utter shock," Ameilio said on the stand. "It’s the worst day of my life." He was ultimately exonerated by the jury.
Along with the ruling, the jury broke down which of the defendants -- both corporate and individual -- had to pay, and how much. Unit Production manager Tom Luse was deemed 15 percent responsible; First Assistant Director Jeff January was 10 percent responsible; and Stunt Coordinator Monty Simons was 4% responsible. The late Bernecker was found to be 6 percent responsible.
The majority of the burden went to Stalwart Films which was held accountable for 40% of the accident, whereas TWD 8 was held 25% responsible. Insurance is expected to cover the damages.
AMC also released a statement on the matter, which read that "there is no winning or losing in this situation."
"This was a terrible and tragic accident and our sympathies continue to go out to John Bernecker’s family and friends. The set of The Walking Dead is safe and is managed to meet or exceed all industry standards and guidelines related to stunts and stunt safety. That has been the case across the production of 10 seasons and more than 150 episodes, and it continues to be the case today, notwithstanding this very sad and isolated accident."