Lawrenceville, Georgia — A Georgia jury has awarded $8.6 million to the family of a stuntman killed during the production of a "Walking Dead" episode in 2017.
Law.com's Daily Report reports Thursday's verdict came after a weeklong trial before Gwinnett County State Court Judge Emily Brantley. Jurors began deliberations late Tuesday and handed up the verdict shortly before 6 p.m.
Lawyers for defendants AMC and production company Stalwart Films had argued that John Bernecker's death in a fall from a balcony during a staged fight was an unforeseen accident that happened when the trained stuntman missed a landing pad 25 feet below. It happened on a set on the set in Senoia, about 40 miles south of Atlanta. The lawyers said AMC Networks wasn't found to be negligent as part of the verdict.
Bernecker's parents, Susan and Hagen Bernecker, sued AMC, Stalwart and several other defendants involved in the show's production, claiming they skimped on safety measures for financial and scheduling concerns.
In a statement, plaintiffs attorney Jeffrey Harris said the 33-year-old "was a remarkably talented stunt professional who had an incredibly bright future in the film industry. My sincere hope is this verdict sends a clear message regarding the need to both elevate and strictly adhere to industry safety standards every day, on every shoot, on every film set.
"John's tragic and preventable death happened as a result of a series of safety-related failures. Learning from these failures will go a long way in making sure that similar tragedies do not happen to another performer or another family," he said.
AMC Networks said in a statement late Thursday that, "There is no winning or losing in this situation, this was a terrible and tragic accident and our sympathies continue to go out to John Bernecker's family and friends. The set of 'The Walking Dead' is safe and is managed to meet or exceed all industry standards and guidelines related to stunts and stunt safety. That has been the case across the production of 10 seasons and more than 150 episodes, and it continues to be the case today, notwithstanding this very sad and isolated accident."
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