A jury has awarded an $8.6 million dollar verdict in the death of an entertainment industry stuntman who suffered a fatal fall on the set of the TV show “The Walking Dead.” The jury found that AMC Networks' entity, TWD 8, and its production company, Stalwart Films, were negligent in John Bernecker's death. AMC Networks, the parent company of TWD 8, was not found liable in the incident. An actor standing near Bernecker at the time of the incident, Austin Amelio, was exonerated in the court case.
Bernecker (shown above) fell during filming in Senoia, Georgia in July 2017. The stunt he was performing involved him jumping over a balcony railing and landing 22’ below on thick padding that consisted in part of PORTaPIT pads (a jump landing system also used in sporting events). Bernecker, an experienced stunt man and fight choreographer, missed the padding by approximately nine feet and landed on the concrete floor, sustaining massive head injuries.
The evidence the jury saw included something not always available in workplace fatalities: film footage of the event.
Witnesses said the jump appeared to go wrong and Bernecker unexpectedly grabbed the balcony railing with his left hand, which changed his trajectory as he fell. After receiving immediate first aid from a set medic, Bernecker was airlifted to an Atlanta hospital, where he died two days later.
An attorney for Bernecker's mother successfully argued that the production failed to abide by its own safety rules.
In a statement, AMC said that "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."
Bernecker’s is believed to be the first stunt-related death in the United States in more than 17 years.