Mother of 'Walking Dead' Stuntman Files Wrongful Death Lawsuit Against AMC

Lawsuit accuses network of cutting corners on safety precautions following death of stuntman John Bernecker

'Walking Dead' wrongful death lawsuit accuses AMC of cutting corners on safety precautions following death of stuntman John Bernecker. Credit: Gene Page/AMC

The mother of late actor and stuntman John Bernecker filed a wrongful death lawsuit recently in her bid to "seek justice" for her son, placing the blame on AMC for cutting back on budgets for safety precautions on set, according to the Associated Press.

"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 lawsuit reads in part. "As part of this emphasis, the AMC Defendants pressured Stalwart Films to maintain unreasonably low budgets and expenses for episodes, including the budget allotted to stunts. Accordingly, the production of The Walking Dead repeatedly cut corners on safety precautions, including as it pertained to stunt performances."

The suit specifically names, among other AMC employees, 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; Matthew Goodwin, the show's key second assistant director; and Austin Amelio the actor sharing the scene with Bernecker.

According to the suit, Amelio's character was supposed to "shoot" Bernecker and "push" him over a metal railing at the edge of a 22-foot platform and onto a waiting padded area below in a scene filmed last July. "Amelio was instructed not to actually touch John during the stunt performance," the suit reads. When it came time to film the scene, however, something went awry.

The suit alleges that Amelio "actually touched John, appearing to push John, yet pulling or grabbing the clothing at John’s back. As John 'fell' over the railing, his momentum was changed or inhibited, causing the trajectory of his fall to lead closer to and underneath the balcony. John was propelled to the ground under the balcony, where the ground was not padded or protected in any way."

As a result, Bernecker suffered blunt force trauma and severe traumatic injuries; he was transferred to an Atlanta hospital, where he was declared dead on July 12 and removed from organ support on July 16.  He was 33.

The other individuals named in the suit are being accused of not being "responsible" for ensuring that all safety measures were in place before shooting the scene. Bernecker's mother, Susan Bernecker, is also suing AMC as a whole for, among other things, "failing to utilize spotters around the padding to assist in protecting John and correcting his trajectory, in keeping with industry standards" and "failing to secure the services of an independent safety specialist to assess the potential hazards and develop appropriate risk reduction strategies."

In a statement in response to the lawsuit, 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."