'The Walking Dead' hit with maximum fine over stuntman's death

Publicity shot of stunt man John Bernecker.
Publicity shot of stunt man John Bernecker.

Credit: Rodney Ho

Credit: Rodney Ho

Posted Friday, January 5, 2018 by RODNEY HO/rho@ajc.com on his AJC Radio & TV Talk blog

OSHA has hit "The Walking Dead" with the maximum fine for a single incident following last July's death of a stuntman John Bernecker.

The fine itself is a mere financial ripple for such a large production: $12,675. Notably, it was a single citation in the "serious" category, which is less severe than "repeat" or "willful." OSHA has placed higher fines on companies with multiple citations or for those cited for a "repeat" or "willful" violation.

Bernecker, 33, died two days after suffering head injuries from a fall of more than 20 feet from a balcony. He was rehearsing a fight scene with actor Austin Amelio, who plays Dwight. Though an airbag was placed below, he missed it, striking his head on the ground. (TMZ has more details and a photo of the balcony.)

OSHA, part of the U.S. Department of Labor, cited Stalwart Films LLC for “failing to protect employees from fall hazards."

Since 2010, "The Walking Dead" has shot in Senoia and surrounding areas. AMC now owns Raleigh Studios, based in Senoia, where the accident happened.

"This tragedy should serve as a wake-up call for the entertainment industry," said OSHA Atlanta Regional Administrator Kurt Petermeyer in a press release. "The entire industry needs to commit to safety practices for actors and stunt people involved in this type of work."

Stalwart can pay the fine, request a conference with the OSHA area director or contest the fine.

“This was a tragic and terrible accident," Stalwart said in a statement. "We take the safety of our employees extremely seriously on all of our sets and comply with – and frequently exceed – industry safety standards. We disagree with the issuance of this citation and are considering our response.”

Susan Bernecker, the mother of John, hired Jeffrey R. Harristhe attorney who won an $11.2 million verdict in the case of the "Midnight Rider" train fatality. She has yet to file a lawsuit.

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