It’s been just over six months since stuntman John Bernecker died from injuries he sustained while filming The Walking Dead season 8. Now his mother, Susan, is suing AMC and the series’ production companies in a wrongful death complaint filed in Georgia state court on Tuesday.
“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 Dead cheaply and, ultimately, unsafely.”
“As the ultimate decision-makers for The Walking Dead production,” the complaint adds, “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.”
In a statement to EW, AMC said: “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.”
Bernecker suffered “serious injuries” last year while on the set of The Walking Dead in Senoia, Georgia, where he fell more than 20 feet onto concrete during a fight scene.
According to Susan’s lawsuit, which goes into much further detail, the scene involved was filmed on July 12, 2017 with actor Austin Amelio (Dwight). The stunt required Bernecker “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.”
The suit further stipulates that the scene was not rehearsed and that Amelio was instructed not to touch Bernecker while he performed the stunt. Amelio allegedly did, which the complaint claims threw off the fall. (A representative for Amelio did not immediately respond to EW’s request for comment.) “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.”
Bernecker was pronounced dead when he was rushed to the Atlanta Medical Center. “There was no ambulance or medical transport at the filming location, contrary to established industry standards,” according to the complaint.
The U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration opened an investigation into the incident. OSHA announced on Jan. 5, 2018 that it imposed a $12,675 fine on Stalwart Films for “failure to provide adequate protection from fall hazards.”
“This was a tragic and terrible accident,” Stalwart Films said in a statement at the time. “We take the safety of our employees extremely seriously on all of our sets and comply with — and frequently exceed — industry safety standards. We disagree with the issuance of this citation and are considering our response.”
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.