The mother of a stuntman killed on the set of The Walking Dead is suing the hit show’s producers and several others, accusing them of “cutting corners” and risking the lives of those on set.
Susan Bernecker’s son John Bernecker was shooting at The Walking Dead’s filming location in Senoia, Georgia, on July 12, 2017, when he fell head-first off a balcony and landed on a concrete floor 22 feet below. The 33-year-old professional stuntman died of massive head injuries sustained in the fall.
According to the Daily Report, Mr. Bernecker was acting as a stunt double for a Walking Dead character. Another actor was directed to “shoot” Mr. Bernecker and push him over a balcony without actually touching him. But something went wrong in the staged brawl and Mr. Bernecker hit the concrete floor instead of the allegedly ill-rigged padding.
Ms. Bernecker’s complaint claims that low budgets and expenses for series’ episodes “enforced a pattern of filming and producing ‘The Walking Dead’ cheaply and ultimately unsafely.”
Mr. Bernecker fell from an elevated platform transformed into a balcony with a “makeshift” railing. Below, portable pads stacked on cardboard boxes and tied together with rope were intended to cushion Mr. Bernecker’s fall but they did not extend all the way under the balcony, the lawsuit alleges, according to the Daily Report.
There were also no airbags or spotters and the stunt scene was never rehearsed, Ms. Bernecker claims.
Other violations may have contributed to Mr. Bernecker’s death. The lawsuit alleges that the production companies failed to have an ambulance or other form of emergency transportation on the set and that more than a half hour passed before a helicopter arrived to fly Mr. Bernecker to a hospital. As a result, Mr. Bernecker didn’t receive medical care for nearly an hour after the accident.
Among the defendants named in Ms. Bernecker’s complaints are Stalwart Films, one of The Walking Dead’s producers; Prodigy Stunts, an independent contractor; and several directors.
Ms. Bernecker has created a foundation in her son’s memory to “create solutions for the safety of movie and television performers,” according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
“John was a highly professional, veteran stunt performer who always had your back if you were working with him,” she said in a statement.
“I want answers about what happened to John on the set of ‘The Walking Dead,’ and I also plan to have the back of other stunt performers across the industry. After all, stunt performers were our extended family, and John would want me to look after them in his memory. My goal is to do everything I can to protect other stunt performers and to ensure their safety on the set in the future. The industry is not doing enough to maintain basic safety guidelines for these performers. Worst of all, they’re scared to speak up.”