From fatal prop gun malfunctions to high-speed stunts, explore recent injuries and fatalities in the entertainment industry
The glitz and glamor of Hollywood often overshadow the risks that actors and crew members face while bringing stories to life on film and television sets. Yet, a startling number of injuries and fatalities have occurred in recent years, sparking critical discussions about workplace safety in the entertainment industry. From high-speed stunts gone awry to prop gun malfunctions, the hazards are real and sometimes fatal.
While workers’ compensation aims to provide some financial relief to injured employees or their families, it often falls short of offering full recourse, especially when it comes to fatal or catastrophic injuries. In such cases, partnering with an experienced work injury attorney can be crucial for getting the compensation you deserve.
How common are accidents on TV and movie sets?
According to the Associated Press, there were almost 200 serious accidents on U.S. television and movie sets between 1990 and 2014, including at least 43 fatalities. The occupations with the highest risk of serious injuries were stunt workers and carpenters, with the most common injury being broken bones.
Recent injuries and deaths on movie and television sets
In October 2021, cinematographer Halyna Hutchins was fatally shot on the set of the film Rust when a prop gun held by Alec Baldwin accidentally discharged. The incident also injured the director, Joel Souza.
Prosecutors initially charged Baldwin and the film’s prop armorer, Hannah Gutierrez-Reed, with involuntary manslaughter but later dropped the charges against Baldwin. Although a settlement was approved between Baldwin and Hutchins’ family, multiple civil suits are still pending.
The Walking Dead
In July 2017, stuntman John Bernecker died after falling on a balcony set while filming AMC’s The Walking Dead in Georgia. Bernecker’s family filed a wrongful-death lawsuit against AMC Networks and other parties, alleging insufficient safety measures on set.
Although a jury initially awarded over $8 million in civil damages in December 2019, the Georgia Court of Appeals overturned the decision in March 2021.
Stuntwoman Joi Harris was performing a motorcycle stunt on the set of Deadpool 2 in Vancouver, British Columbia, in 2017 when she crashed into the window of a building and died. Although it was her first film, she had previous experience as a motorcycle racer.
An accident report concluded that Fox did not adequately assess risks or provide sufficient safety measures during the stunt. As a result, producers were fined nearly $300,000.
Resident Evil: The Final Chapter
In September 2015, stuntwoman Olivia Jackson was severely injured on the set of Resident Evil: The Final Chapter in South Africa when she collided with camera equipment while riding a motorcycle. She sustained multiple injuries, including an arm amputation, spinal cord damage, a brain bleed, a degloving facial injury and multiple broken bones.
In April 2020, a South African court ruled in her favor against a company involved in the film.
Star Wars: The Force Awakens
Harrison Ford was seriously injured while filming Star Wars: The Force Awakens at Pinewood Studios in London in June 2014. The actor was crushed by a hydraulic door on the Millennium Falcon set, suffering severe injuries, including a broken left leg. The incident could have been fatal.
The company in charge, Foodles Production, pleaded guilty to 2 violations of health and safety laws. Despite his injuries, Ford recovered in time to complete his role in the film, which went on to be a box-office hit.
In February 2014, camera assistant Sarah Jones was killed on the set of the film Midnight Rider in Georgia while setting up a shot on a CSX railroad track. The crew believed they had a safe window between trains, but a third, high-speed train appeared, resulting in Jones’ death and injuries to others.
Later, her family reached an undisclosed settlement with 11 defendants, and the film’s director, Randall Miller, served a year in jail for involuntary manslaughter and received 10 years of probation.
Disney’s The Lone Ranger
During the production of Disney’s The Lone Ranger in 2012, diver Michael Bridger drowned while cleaning a 24-foot tank. OSHA investigators found that the film’s production company, Silver Bullet, had violated multiple safety protocols, including insufficient training and lack of proper supervision.
The violations were considered significant enough to pose a “realistic possibility” of death or severe injury. Because of this, the film was fined $61,445.
Australian stunt actor Scott McLean sustained brain damage while working as a stunt double in the movie Hangover 2 in December 2010. Following a high-speed collision on set in Bangkok, Thailand, he was in a medically induced coma for 2 months and has since experienced ongoing seizures, speech and physical impediments, and other brain trauma.
He initially filed a lawsuit against Warner Bros., the film’s second unit director, and the stunt coordinator, claiming that changes to the stunt’s timing led to the accident, but he later dropped the lawsuit.
Discover the similarities and differences between workers’ comp and a personal injury in Arizona.
Does workers’ comp provide compensation for injuries and deaths on film sets?
Yes, workers’ compensation generally provides coverage for injuries and deaths that occur on film and TV sets, as long as the injured or deceased individual is an employee of the production company or another covered entity.
Workers’ comp is designed to provide benefits for medical expenses and wage replacement for workers who are injured or killed while performing their job duties. In the case of a death, workers’ comp provides death benefits to the surviving dependents of the deceased. This coverage can extend to actors, stunt performers, crew members and other staff involved in a production.
However, it’s important to note that accepting workers’ comp benefits typically means waiving the right to sue your employer for negligence.
Additionally, initial settlement offers are typically far less than a worker is entitled to, so it’s vital to understand the extent of your injuries and what types of long-term medical treatment you’ll require so you can ensure you get appropriately compensated.
An experienced work injury attorney can estimate the value of your claim and help you understand your legal options after a serious injury or death at work to ensure your rights are protected.
Injured on a movie or TV set in Arizona? Get help from an experienced workers’ compensation attorney.
If you or a loved one has suffered a serious injury or fatality while working on a film set in the Phoenix area, contact the knowledgeable work injury attorneys at the Law Offices of Robert E. Wisniewski. Our law firm has been helping injured Arizona workers and their families recover maximum compensation for more than 45 years.