Safety on Set: Actors Are Not Immune from Serious Injury While Filming

The film industry brought in approximately $11 billion in 2015, yet despite this impressive revenue, every year people are seriously injured on set due to unsafe working conditions or negligence. Actors, crew members, and stuntmen or women may suffer injury for various reasons, but occasionally they may even sustain harm so great that it results in death.

While filming Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Harrison Ford broke his leg on set when a door prematurely closed on his ankle. Bruce Lee’s son, Brandon Lee suffered a fatal injury on the set of The Crow when a prop gun malfunctioned and an explosion used to simulate the gunfire discharged improperly. Halle Berry has suffered numerous injuries on set and was diagnosed with a head injury after losing consciousness while shooting a fight scene with a stuntman for The Call.

Of course, it is not just millionaire A-list actors who suffer injuries. Oftentimes, lower paid crew members suffer catastrophic trauma on set. In 2014, a 27-year-old camera assistant named Sarah Jones was working on the set of Midnight Rider. The crew was using a prop medical bed on train tracks but unexpectedly, a train appeared down the line on the tracks.

The panicked crew abandoned the prop that the train subsequently struck. Jones was struck by debris from the impact and tragically lost her life. Six other crew members suffered injuries of varying degree in the incident.

What Duty is Owed to Actors and Stuntmen and Women on Set?

The injuries and fatality resulting from the accident on the set of Midnight Rider resulted in a criminal investigation and trial, but what are the civil liabilities? The family of Sarah Jones understandably sued the producers of the film and then eventually, the parties reached a confidential settlement. The lawsuit alleged that negligence on the part of the production actually and proximately caused Jones’s death.

People working in the film industry have made great strides in remediating onset injury by unionizing and advocating for better working conditions. Nonetheless, accidents still happen and the negligence standards on the set of a film are the same as in any other setting. Negligence occurs when a person or entity breaches a duty, resulting in the actual harm of another person.

Oftentimes, the question of whether or not a duty is owed comes down whether someone failed to act as a “reasonably prudent person” would. In the case of Midnight Rider, the producers knew to expect two trains on the tracks but the train that caused the accident was an unexpected third. Arguably, the producers should have taken additional measures, given the amount of harm a moving train could cause, to ensure the safety of their cast and crew. Other questions raised in the Midnight Rider action involve whether the railroad company was negligent in any way. After all, by some accounts, there were supposed to be only two trains, not three.

An experienced attorney can help you determine who to name as defendants for any injury you have sustained. It is imperative that you name all persons you believe are responsible for your harm because if you do not name them in the lawsuit, then you lose out on recouping losses from them for the injury.

What Other Factors May Contribute to Your Negligence Claim?

If someone deviates from the reasonably prudent person standard causing harm to you, then you may feel that the case is closed. Unfortunately, it is not that easy. The breach of duty has to be the proximate cause of your harm. In the Midnight Rider accident, did the producers’ negligence cause the death and injury to crew members? That is to say, would they have been hurt but-for the producers negligently filming on active train tracks? In this example, it does appear that the negligence caused the harm, although this instance, the case never went to trial.

Once you have established that another’s negligence caused actual harm to you, you must ask whether your actions contributed to your harm, as well. In some states, if your own actions contributed to the accident, then you are barred from asserting a legal claim. This is known as contributory negligence. Fortunately, contributory negligence will not necessarily bar your claim in the state of California. An experienced attorney will help you determine the best legal strategy for your case if your actions may have contributed in part, to the accident.

If You Have Been Injured, What is Your Claim Worth?

Injuries sustained on the set of a film production can be catastrophic. Not only may you have present and future medical needs, but you may endure lost wages and depending on the severity of the event, pain and suffering could significantly impact your life going forward. According the Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation, the cost of living with a severe spinal injury can cost tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of dollars every year. Those numbers do not even take into consideration the effect of lost wages. Sometimes, your future needs may not always be apparent to you and it is imperative that you seek professional advice so you are prepared for the times to come.

The state of California requires production insurance if the filming takes place on state property, and most production companies do carry insurance. If you are injured, it is wise to have an experienced attorney negotiate with the insurance companies on your behalf. Insurance companies are sophisticated entities and they may try to get you to settle for less than your claim is worth. That is why it is always best to seek advice from an attorney if you have been injured.

If You Have Been Injured on a Film Set, You Need Experienced Injury Lawyers

The attorneys at Citywide Law Group, are not afraid to take your case to trial. We have a wide range of experience and can help you if someone’s negligence has caused you harm as severe as brain injuries or even wrongful death. Call us today for a free consultation.