Movie Production Accident Attorneys
In nearly all movie set accidents there is one common thread that ties them together. Namely, tragedies happen when companies put a greater emphasis on profits over the safety of people. There are a number of pressures that can come together to increase the odds that an accident will take place on a movie set. Directors and producers will typically have to finish all of their shots within a set budget and schedule. This can easily lead to cost cutting and time saving measures that can compromise safety. There are a number of other factors that can lead to serious accidents.
- Production companies may opt to use real guns as opposed to prop guns to add an additional layer of realism.
- Production companies may hire inexperienced safety experts in order to avoid paying higher prices to industry veterans.
- Production companies may neglect safety standards in order to get shots that are more cinematic.
- Production companies may fail to properly train actors, stunt-people or crew.
- Production companies may fail to obtain the appropriate permits they need to start filming.
Poor safety standards in the film industry have led to thousands of serious injuries over the years. According to one report from the Safety & Health Practitioner, in the early years of the film industry between 1925 and 1930 more than 11,000 people were injured during film productions and 55 people died. After a number of other safety violations, accidents and lawsuits, new legislation was passed in the 1990’s. It had the effect of reducing movie set accidents by as much as 70%. Despite increased safety and regulations, accidents continue to happen.
Movie Set Accidents In The Modern Era
The tragic shooting death of Halyna Hutchins on the Alec Baldwin movie set for Rust is a stark reminder of how dangerous making a film can be. Accidents can happen on movie sets with little to no warning. What follows below are some of the most well-known instances of movie set accidents that left actors or crew members seriously injured or killed.
- Prop Gun Accidents: The son of Bruce Lee, Brandon Lee, was killed by a prop gun while filming a scene for the movie The Crow in 1993. The gun was supposed to fire a blank, but Brandon was hit near the spine with a 0.44-caliber slug. This was the last known death involving a prop gun in nearly 39 years.
- Motorcycle Accidents: ‘Resident Evil’ stuntwoman Olivia Jackson lost her left arm after a high-speed motorcycle accident during one of the film’s stunts. A South African high court ruled in her favor in a civil claim. They declared the stunt was “negligently planned and executed” by Bickers Action SA, the company that coordinated the camera and vehicle for the stunt.
- Electrocutions: NYU film school graduate John Hunt Lamensdorf died in an electrocution accident while working on a film set in Georgia. One other person was seriously injured but survived.
- Plane Crashes: Two men died in a Venezuala plane crash during the filming of the Tom Cruise movie ‘American Made.’ Gersowitz Libo & Korek, P.C. represented the family of Carlos Berl in a wrongful death claim against producers Imagine Entertainment, Vendian Entertainment and Cross Creek Pictures.
- Helicopter Crashes: Three people died in a helicopter crash during the filming of Twilight Zone: The Movie. The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) concluded that the probable cause of the crash was special effects explosions going off too close to the helicopter.
- Train Accidents: Camera assistant Sarah Jones was killed in a train accident on the Georgia set of ‘Midnight Rider.’ Rail operator CSX eventually reached a settlement with the victim’s family.
- Falls From Heights: Stunt performer John Bernecker died in a fall during filming for the television series The Walking Dead in Georgia. He fell from a balcony and landed on concrete after missing a safety cushion by inches.
- Explosions: Four people were critically injured in February of 2021 during a commercial pyrotechnics explosion on a movie set in Santa Clarita.
While many people view accidents on movie sets as ‘freak occurrences,’ nothing could be further from the truth. The vast majority of movie set accidents that have been investigated were found to be preventable and due to safety code violations. Victims that are injured on movie sets may be able to recover damages through a civil claim. But before any claim can be filed, attorneys must first discover who could potentially be liable for an accident during the filming of a movie or film series.
Who Can Be Sued For A Movie Set Accident
There are a number of potential entities that can be held liable for a movie set accident. Unlike most work environments, actors and film crew are often independent contractors, not employees. Workers compensation therefore typically would not apply. Most of the legal claims for on set accidents will be directed at production companies and the limited liability companies (LLCs) incorporated to create a film. Production companies have an obligation under the law to maintain their premises in a reasonably safe condition and follow all safety codes. They can be vicariously liable for the negligent actions of their employees when safety standards are not followed. There are many different safety codes that have to be followed. They cover a wide range of different scenarios including the use of firearms, filming near the water and filming at elevated heights.
- Supervisors must ensure that all of their employees have received general workplace safety training. Employees must then submit evidence of that training.
- Workers should be provided with fall protection on scissor lifts, elevated platforms, near unprotected edges and anytime workers are exposed to a fall of more than 4 feet.
- Engineering services or laboratory services should be utilized for shots involving potential exposure to asbestos, environmental hazards such as filming near water and the use of pyrotechnics.
- Combustible materials must be kept a safe distance from open flames. Likewise, all cast and crew must be notified when they will be in an environment with open flames.
A film may need a prop master or a weapons armorer. The prop master has a legal obligation to inspect for safety all of the props that are used in a film. A weapons armorer is a specialist that is typically hired when shots involving guns are used during the course of production. To maintain safety, the prop master or weapons armorer must test fire weapons off-stage before each use. The barrels must also be inspected for foreign objects that could become projectiles. Blank rounds should always be loaded at the last possible minute. The actual loading of a weapon must be done by the prop master, weapons armor or a qualified person under their direct supervision. When a prop master or weapons armorer fails to uphold safety standards, they or the company that hired them could be held accountable through a civil claim.
Assumption of Risk and the Effectiveness of Liability Waivers
Demonstrating liability for any accident on a film production set can be complicated. Production companies will often use two key legal strategies to defend themselves – or reduce their own liability – for civil claims. As a general rule of thumb, companies and individuals will typically not be liable for injuries when a person knowingly engages in risky conduct. This is known as the assumption of risk doctrine. Even if a production company was negligent and allowed an accident to happen, they will often argue that the plaintiff was at least partially responsible through comparative negligence. While it is true that many crew members and especially stunt people assume a certain level of risk, production companies are not allowed to create stunts or environments that are unreasonably dangerous.
- A movie set may be unreasonably dangerous if a prop master is not performing safety inspections of the props on set.
- A movie set may be unreasonably dangerous if crew members or actors are exposed to heights without fall protection.
- A movie set may be unreasonably dangerous if crew members or actors are exposed to electrical hazards.
- A movie set may be unreasonably dangerous if crew members or actors are exposed to noxious fumes or asbestos.
The second major strategy that production companies will use to limit their exposure to liability for on-set accidents is to have cast and crew sign liability waivers. Different states have different standards on how enforceable these agreements are. For example, the language used in the liability waiver must meet certain requirements to be considered valid in court. Liability waivers typically will not cover instances of gross negligence or intentional acts. Even if a liability waiver is completely enforceable, third-party claims may arise from the manufacturer of a dangerous product or malfunctioning equipment involved in an accident. If you’ve been injured on the set of a film and have signed a liability waiver, it’s best to have that waiver examined by a skilled movie set accident attorney.
Common Injuries Sustained On Movie Sets
It’s not uncommon for the injuries sustained on movie sets to be catastrophic. More and more films are utilizing high speed chases and other dangerous stunts that could imperil actors or crew. Common injuries from motor vehicle accidents could include broken bones, head injuries, spinal cord injuries and amputations. Explosions can also cause devastating injuries and serious burns. If someone makes their living as an actor or stunt performer, a serious injury could easily end their career in addition to the mountain of medical bills they may face.
Many of the injuries that a person might face in a movie set accident may not be immediately obvious. For example, many actors or film crew could suffer hearing loss if they are repeatedly exposed to loud sounds. When crews are repeatedly exposed to dangerously loud sounds they should be given protective equipment. Unfortunately, this does not always happen. Even if a crew member is injured on set and recovers physically, many are often left with long-term psychological injuries such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Any person that is injured on the set of a movie should seek medical treatment as well as follow up care to check for lasting injuries.
Getting Help After A Movie Set Accident
The personal injury attorneys at Gersowitz Libo & Korek, P.C. have been helping accident victims for over 39 years and have recovered nearly $1 billion dollars for their deserving clients. They understand how difficult it can be financially, medically and emotionally to recover after an accident. In fact, they have experience helping victims of movie set accidents and were able to secure a confidential settlement on behalf of the family of a plane crash victim killed during the shooting of the Tom Cruise movie ‘American Made.’
If you or someone that you love has been injured during the filming of a movie you may have recourse through a civil claim. Damages can help cover lost wages, medical bills and pain and suffering. An attorney can examine all of the unique facts of your case free of cost and let you know what your legal options are. Our attorneys will fight hard to get you the compensation and justice that you deserve under the law. For more information or to get a free consultation with one of our experienced personal injury attorneys, please call Gersowitz Libo & Korek, P.C. at 646-828-1954.