John Bernecker was 33 when he died after attempting a stunt on "The Walking Dead" set. Family photo
Photo: HANDOUT
Photo: HANDOUT

Judge rejects AMC’s efforts to stop trial for ‘Walking Dead’ stuntman’s death

Civil case jury trial is set for December 9

Originally posted Friday, October 11, 2019 by RODNEY HO/rho@ajc.com on his AJC Radio & TV Talk blog

A state judge in Gwinnett County has rejected AMC’s claim that it was not responsible for the death of a stuntman on the set of “The Walking Dead” in 2017 and has cleared the way for a civil trial.

The trial before judge Emily Brantley is scheduled for December 9. Variety broke the story. 

Veteran stuntman John Bernecker in July of 2017 fell to his death while working on a stunt with actor Austin Amelio on a balcony. He dropped 21 feet and missed cushions placed to protect him. He hit his head and died a day later. 

AMC, attempting a claim of summary judgment, argued that Bernecker alone was responsible for the incident and had assumed the risks of the fall. 

“While his death is undoubtedly tragic,” AMC’s attorneys wrote in motions in August, “under controlling Georgia law, the affirmative defense of assumption of the risk bars Plaintiffs’ claims against each of the Defendants because Bernecker, a professional stuntman, understood and appreciated the dangers and risks associated with the high fall and voluntarily attempted the stunt without coercion.”

Bernecker’s attorneys’ argued that Amelio had pushed Bernecker off the balcony when he wasn’t fully prepared. 

AMC also said the production was handled by production company Stalwart Films, not AMC. 

Judge Brantley said the case was strong enough for a jury to determine who was liable and that AMC’s ties with Stalwart were close enough for the case to move forward. 

AMC released this statement to Variety: “This was a tragic accident. While we continue to believe our motions for summary judgment were appropriate and supported by the facts in this case and the law, we respect the Court’s decision — without making any determination on the merits of either side’s arguments — to allow the case to proceed.”

OSHA hit “The Walking Dead”’s production company last year with a maximum fine over the incident: $12,675

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About the Author

Rodney Ho
Rodney Ho
Rodney Ho covers radio and television for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
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