On July 12, 2017, John Bernecker was working as a stuntman on the set of AMC’s The Walking Dead when he fell 20 feet onto a concrete floor and sustained a serious head injury.
After he was rushed to an Atlanta hospital his family decided to take him off life support on July 16 after seeing no hope for a recovery. He succumbed to his injuries and died shortly after. He was 33 at the time of his death.
In January of 2018, his mother, Susan Bernecker filed a wrongful death lawsuit against AMC and the production company Stalwart Films. A number of others were also named in the suit including directors, executive producers, production managers, and stunt managers involved with the episode John Bernecker was filming when he died.
In the lawsuit Bernecker states that her son’s death was due to the fact that the network took shortcuts during production in order to keep the costs low. These shortcuts she states, directly and negatively affected her son, as one of the areas cut in the budget pertained to the stunts being performed on the set.
One of the shortcuts taken, according to Bernecker, was that there were not spotters around a padded area John was supposed to land on after another actor pushed him over a railing. The actor was directed not to touch John so he could land on a padded area. The actor did touch John though and the trajectory of his fall changed, forcing him to land on an area that was not protected with a padded mat. Had there been spotters, argues Bernecker, the mat could have been moved and her son’s life could have been saved.
The lawsuit was filed in Gwinnett County State Court in Georgia. In a statement Bernecker said that she filed the lawsuit because she was looking for justice for her son. While AMC has issued a statement indicating the loss they and audiences will feel in the wake of John’s death, they have not commented on the lawsuit.
“Being a stuntman can be a dangerous job,” says Glenn Ivey of Price Benowitz LLP. “But that does not mean that anyone should lose their life over it. If the lawsuit is successful, Susan Bernecker will not only receive compensation. She may change the way studios and television networks operate going forward.”