Two years ago, in 2017, while filming a scene for AMC’s very successful, long-running TV show The Walking Dead, based on Robert Kirkman’s comic book series of the same name, a stuntman by the name of John Bernecker fell to his death during a stunt gone wrong. Today, his family’s lawyer made his closing argument, accusing AMC of being liable for Bernecker’s death, saying that it was entirely preventable and asking for $40-$100 million in damages.
The stunt in question involved Bernecker falling over a railing after being killed by Dwight, Austin Amelio’s character. There was a crash pad below him and things seemed set, but something went awry and Bernecker missed the pad by between two and nine feet. He fell on his skull and was rushed to a hospital, where he died two days later.
AMC’s arguing that he gripped the railing on his way down, which altered his trajectory. Family attorney Jeff Harris argues though that, if AMC had spent just a little more money to widen the area of the crash pad, that Bernecker may still be alive today.
These kinds of stories are the worst to write, but I think they’re very important to showcase a side of the industry that doesn’t often get though about. Stunt and actor safety should be a priority on action-based sets. From Vic Morrow and the child actor’s deaths on Twilight Zone: The Movie back in the day – which, by the way, director John Landis never faced charges for – to, more recently, Joi Harris’ death on Deadpool 2 and Olivia Jackson losing her arm for Resident Evil: Retribution, we still have a long way to go in Hollywood as far as safety goes.
Personally, I love movies, but I don’t think any film is worth dying for. Sure, there are going to be accidents. Awful, terrible things do happen, no matter what you do. But putting people’s lives at risk to save a couple of bucks, or ignoring and leaving these hardworking stuntpeople out to dry when they do get hurt? It’s disgusting behavior.
I understand that AMC needs to defend themselves, but, I don’t know…I guess it’s a lot to ask of a corporation to admit fault and pay up. Money won’t bring John Bernecker back. Let’s just hope that the only other death that happens on The Walking Dead is of the show itself.