Harris Lowry Manton LLP has obtained a $8.6 million verdict on behalf of Susan Bernecker, mother of late stuntman John Bernecker, who fell to his death while performing a stunt on the set of the AMC program The Walking Dead in July 2017 in Senoia, Georgia. Bernecker was only 33 and was a rising stunt actor with nearly 100 film credits.
The jury returned its verdict in favor of the plaintiff on December 19, 2019. Harris Lowry Manton LLP partner Jeff Harris – who served as the lead trial attorney representing Susan Bernecker – issued the following statement after the verdict:
“John 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.”
Born in New Orleans, La., in 1984, John Bernecker was an accomplished stunt performer with nearly 100 film credits over the course of his career. He was recently honored at the 2018 Television Emmy Awards and nominated in both television and film performances at the 2018 SAG Awards. He was known for his stunt work on major productions like Ninja Turtles 1 & 2 (2014-2016), 22 Jump Street (2014), Logan (2017) and Fantastic Four (2015). He also acted in several films, including Black Panther (2018) and played the Werewolf in Goosebumps (2015).
Jeff Harris previously represented the parents of camera assistant Sarah Elizabeth Jones, who was hit and killed by a train while working on the Gregg Allman biopic Midnight Rider near Jesup, Georgia. That incident inspired the Safety for Sarah movement, which strives to make film and television sets safer for everyone working in the industry.
This latest verdict is bittersweet: justice has been served, but the cost – as always – is too great. We can only hope that this outcome will encourage the entertainment industry to do what is right, not what is simply expedient or more profitable.