AMC defended the case against allegations that it was at fault for the death of stuntman, John Bernecker, while on the set of The Walking Dead. The case went to the jury’s hands after the completion of closing arguments and a lengthy trial. The jury awarded Bernecker’s family $8.6 million dollars. Now, AMC is asking the court to overturn that verdict so it doesn’t have to pay the award.
Bernecker “was going to live 40 to 50 more years,” Attorney Jeff Harris said in the closing arguments. “What is a year of life worth? …It’s one to two million dollars per year. That is the way the law thinks you should calculate damages, and it is consistent with how we view life in our society.” The jury awarded the figure after hearing the case and determining that Bernecker was, in fact, an independent contractor to AMC, not an employee, at the time of his death.
Yesterday, AMC Networks urged a Georgia appeals court to erase an $8.6 million jury verdict in the death of The Walking Dead stuntman, John Bernecker.
AMC, along with several other entities, appealed to the Third Division of the Georgia Court of Appeals, arguing that Bernecker should have been considered an employee, not an independent contractor. That would have forced Bernecker’s parents to go through Georgia’s workers’ compensation system, rather than getting a civil judgment.
Bernecker’s attorney urged the appellate judges not to second-guess the jury’s decision after heairng the case. Harris argued to the appellate court that Bernecker received a 1099 tax form, was paid through his loan-out company, was admitted on set as a “visitor,” and worked on a day-by-day basis for various productions.
“All of that screams ‘independent contractor,’” Harris said. Harris also raised questions about whether Bernecker even signed the contract, noting that it was dated on a date when Bernecker was in the hospital in a coma.
“It was admittedly a complicated, convoluted factual mess that the jury had to sort out,” Harris argued. “The jury concluded he was an independent contractor.”
Should the appellate court overturn the verdict, there are several things that could happen. Given the court’s findings, there could be an entirely new trial, the court could choose not to decide on the matter and uphold the jury’s decision, or the court could issue some sort of decision that only partially rejects the jury’s decision, forcing the defendants to still be liable. Lastly, whatever the appellate court decides could still then be appealed to Georgia’s Supreme Court, making this case continue to linger in its court system.
Either way, we’re sure this is difficult for all party’s involved, knowing how close the cast and crew of The Walking Dead are. But, even more importantly, as this continues it’s difficult and painful for Bernecker’s family who just want closure for their son’s death, a prolonged court battle isn’t what anyone wants to see.
What are your thoughts on the trial? Let us know in the comments below.
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