Learn if you’re eligible for workers’ comp benefits after an injury in Arizona
Since the 1920s, Arizona has served as the backdrop for Western films like John Ford’s Stagecoach and space-themed movies like Planet of the Apes. Once ranked as the 3rd-largest market for film production in the U.S., Arizona remains the location of choice for many in the film industry.
As more projects are scheduled to be filmed in the desert state, television and movie industry-related injuries are also likely to increase, leaving many workers to wonder if they qualify for workers’ compensation benefits.
This article will provide an overview of workers’ compensation laws in Arizona and explain how injured workers can file a claim to receive benefits for medical expenses and lost wages.
Injured at work? Learn everything you need to know about Arizona’s workers’ comp law, eligibility requirements, and how to apply for your benefits.
Jobs available on Arizona film sets
The top-ranking workers on film sets are generally the film’s directors and producers. Principal actors and actresses also work on set, and they generally receive higher rates of compensation than most workers who are employed behind the scenes.
Most jobs on film sets are referred to as crew positions. These behind-the-scenes roles can include:
- Assistant directors
- Production assistants
- Art directors
- Prop masters
- Directors of photography
- Stunt performers
- Camera operators
- Electrical workers
- Hair stylists
- Makeup artists
Hidden dangers in film industry jobs
Working in the movie industry often seems glamorous to outsiders. Nevertheless, film and television sets can be surprisingly dangerous.
Although we may only see a few characters appear on screen at a time in TV shows and movies, the sets on which these productions are filmed are generally busy, bustling settings. Crew members move simultaneously to construct backdrops, set up decor, move heavy equipment and direct cast members and extras.
On-set accidents and deaths were especially common when the film industry emerged in Hollywood in the 1930s. Today, the industry is less transparent with its workplace safety data. However, according to data compiled by the Associated Press, at least 43 people have died and more than 150 have been left with life-altering injuries on film sets in the U.S. since 1990.
Common risk factors on TV and movie sets include the following:
- Firearm discharges
- Vehicle crashes
- Slip-and-fall accidents
- Falling props and equipment
- Lack of sufficient safety equipment on set
Common injuries that workers experience due to these risk factors include:
High-profile deaths that took place on movie sets
Below are some high-profile accidents that took place on movie sets in the U.S. in recent history.
Twilight Zone: The Movie in 1982
In 1982, actor Vic Morrow, age 55, and child costars Myca Dinh Le and Renee Shin-Yi Chen, ages 6 and 7, were killed on the set of the cross-genre sci-fi/horror/fantasy film Twilight Zone: The Movie. While filming a Vietnam War scene, a special-effects explosion caused a helicopter to crash into the 3 cast members.
Co-director John Landis and 4 others working on the set were charged with involuntary manslaughter. Eventually, all 5 were acquitted of the charges, and the families of the 3 victims recovered damages through a civil suit against Warner Bros. Studios and others.
The Crow in 1993
Brandon Lee, the son of legendary martial arts star Bruce Lee, was killed on set while filming a scene in the movie, The Crow in 1993. During the scene, Lee’s character was supposed to be shot with a prop gun, but a live .44 bullet was shot through Lee’s abdomen, which lodged in his spine and fatally wounded him. After an investigation, the local district attorney announced negligence as the cause of the shooting, thus ruling out foul play.
Midnight Rider in 2014
Sarah Jones, a 27-year-old camera assistant, was fatally injured in 2014 while filming on a railroad trestle. The assistant was working in Georgia on the set of Midnight Rider, in a scene where a 20-person crew attempted to film on a live railroad track.
Jones was killed when a CSX train suddenly approached on the track traveling at speeds of around 60 mph, striking her before she could move out of the way. According to reports, the production team never obtained permission to shoot the scene on the trestle, so CSX wasn’t ultimately liable for the accident.
Rust in 2021
Just two years ago, famed cinematographer Halyna Hutchins was shot and killed by a loaded prop gun. Hutchins was working as the director of photography for Alec Baldwin’s film Rust when she was accidentally shot and killed by Baldwin. As of February 2023, Baldwin was charged with involuntary manslaughter, though he has maintained his innocence.
Arizona’s workers’ compensation program
Most Arizona employers with at least 1 worker are required by state law to carry workers’ compensation insurance.
This no-fault insurance policy pays benefits to injured workers regardless of who caused the accident that led to the worker’s injury.
Workers’ comp provides injured workers a means of receiving medical care and income supplementation without going through the time-consuming civil court process.
Which workers are eligible for Arizona workers’ comp benefits?
Most Arizona workers who are classified as employees are eligible for workers’ comp benefits after an on-the-job injury. However, workers who are classified as independent contractors typically aren’t covered under workers’ comp. Volunteers are also usually ineligible to receive workers’ comp benefits unless they’re volunteer firefighters or workers at a licensed healthcare facility.
If you’re unsure if your employment status qualifies you to receive benefits, you should contact an experienced workers’ compensation attorney to explain your rights.
What workers’ comp benefits are available to injured Arizona employees?
Workers’ compensation pays eligible injured workers the following benefits:
- Medical expenses. Workers’ comp will pay for all necessary medical treatment and supplies, including surgeries, medications, hospital stays and rehabilitation.
- Lost wages. If your injury forces you to miss work, you’re entitled to wage loss benefits to supplement a portion of your lost income (typically two-thirds) while you recover from your injury.
- Death benefits. If a work injury or illness causes your death, workers’ comp will pay death benefits to your surviving dependents, including funeral expenses and lost income.
Filing a workers’ compensation claim in Arizona
Film industry workers who are injured by on-set hazards can begin the claims process in Arizona by taking the following steps:
- Seek medical attention. First, you should see a doctor immediately after any production accident. Seeking medical attention as quickly as possible will help ensure your injury doesn’t get worse and will provide documentation linking your injury to your job.
- Reporting the injury to your employer. Notify your employer of your injury as soon as possible and preferably in writing. Upon receiving notification, your employer has 10 days to notify their workers’ comp insurance company and the Industrial Commission of Arizona (ICA) of your injury.
- File a claim. Finally, to get workers’ comp benefits, you must file a claim with the IAC within 1 year from the date of your injury or illness. Failure to file a claim within this timeframe will prevent you from collecting any benefits.
- Contact an attorney. Workers can complete the workers’ compensation filing process on their own. However, it is generally better to consult an attorney, especially if your claim is denied. A workers’ comp lawyer can provide advice regarding appropriate compensation amounts, filing dates, and possible challenges that may affect the timeline or the outcome of your claim.
What about injured workers who live out of state?
People who work on television and film productions often travel to work for different projects. So it’s not uncommon for people who live in other states to work on productions that are filmed in Arizona. Injured workers who are involved in a workplace accident while working in another state have 3 options:
- File a claim in the state in which the worker’s employer is based
- File a claim in the state in which the work accident occurred
- File a claim in the worker’s home state
Workers’ comp policies are generally governed by the laws of the state in which the employer is located, but many policies include an extraterritorial provision that protects workers who are injured on the job while working for the insured employer in another state.
Additionally, states often have reciprocity agreements that honor the workers’ compensation policy employers have if they’re based in other states.
Film industry workers should consult an Arizona workers’ compensation attorney to weigh the pros and cons of filing a claim in Arizona against the possibility of filing in other states.
Contact an Arizona workers’ compensation attorney
Just because you were injured at work doesn’t mean you’ll automatically get the workers’ comp benefits you deserve. The process is complicated, and, unfortunately, legitimate claims are denied every day, which is why it’s critical to have an experienced workers’ compensation attorney on your side to protect your rights.
If you’re suffering from a work-related injury or illness in Arizona, contact the Phoenix work injury attorneys at the Law Offices of Robert E. Wisniewski. We specialize in workers’ comp cases and are proud to have been helping injured Arizona workers recover maximum compensation for more than 40 years.