A Georgia jury reached a verdict in The Walking Dead stuntman John Bernecker’s wrongful death trial on Thursday, awarding his estate $8.6 million in civil damages. AMC Networks was found not to be liable or negligent in Bernecker’s death.
The jury did, however, find Walking Dead production company Stalwart Films and various crew members who oversaw the stunt’s filming — including Bernecker himself — partially responsible.
Bernecker died in July 2017 after a fall on set during the production of season 8. The experienced 33-year-old stuntman was supposed to fall over a balcony railing onto a crash pad below, but accidentally swung underneath the balcony and landed on the cement floor more than 20 feet below.
“My sincere hope is this verdict sends a clear message regarding the need to both elevate and strictly adhere to industry safety standards every day, on every shoot, on every film set,” attorney Jeffrey Harris, who represented Bernecker’s family, said in a statement. “John’s tragic and preventable death happened as a result of a series of safety-related failures. Learning from these failures will go a long way in making sure that similar tragedies do not happen to another performer or another family.”
”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,” AMC Networks said in a statement. “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.”
Bernecker’s mother sued AMC in early 2018 on behalf of the stuntman’s estate, seeking up to $100 million in damages. Actor Austin Amelio, now starring on spin-off Fear the Walking Dead, was also named in the suit, with the plaintiffs arguing he touched Bernecker during the stunt, altering his trajectory. The jury, however, found Amelio bore no responsibility. They also decided not to award punitive damages; the $8.6 million will reportedly be covered by insurance.
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