The mother of stuntman John Bernecker, who died while filming The Walking Dead, filed a wrongful death lawsuit against AMC, claiming the network failed to keep the set safe.
John fell over 20 feet on concrete while filming a fight scene with actor Austin Amelio on July 12, 2017. He landed on his head or shoulder area and suffered severe traumatic injuries. He was pronounced dead on the way to the Atlanta Medical Center. There was reportedly no ambulance or medical transport at the filming location.
The lawsuit alleges, “The production of season 8 of The Walking Dead, like seasons before it, had an emphasis on keeping production budgets low and profits high.” It also states that AMC “orchestrated and enforced a pattern of filming and producing ‘The Walking Dead’ cheaply and, ultimately, unsafely.”
The lawsuit said that “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. No air bags were used, nor were any spotters in place. The padding did not fully extend under the balcony.”
The lawsuit added that the fight scene wasn’t rehearsed and Amelio was told not to touch Bernecker. However, Amelio allegedly did touch Bernecker, which threw off the fall.
Other defendants named in the lawsuit are Larry Teng, the episode’s director; Tom Luse, an executive producer and production manager; Jeffrey January, the first assistant director; Monty Simons, the episode’s stunt coordinator; and Matthew Goodwin, the show’s key second assistant director.
Susan Bernecker said that she hopes her son’s death will result in better safety standards for stuntmen in the film and television industry.
“My goal is to do everything I can to protect other stunt performers and to ensure their safety on the set in the future,” she said. “The industry is not doing enough to maintain basic safety guidelines for these performers. Worst of all, they’re scared to speak up.”
AMC released a statement regarding the accident: “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 requests a jury trial and seeks compensatory and punitive damages, in addition to attorney fees.