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Jury Awards $11.2 Million in Wrongful Death on Film Set

A jury awarded $11.2 million to the parents of a 27-year-old camera assistant who died in 2014 in the first day of shooting a film in Georgia. However, the $3.9 million ordered paid by CSX Transportation – the sole defendant at trial, as all others had previously settled – may not be paid if the company is successful with its planned appeal. Jurors had deemed the railroad company 35 percent liable. The director was deemed 28 percent liable, the corporation that owns the land where the tracks were located was deemed 18 percent liable, the assistant director 7 percent liable and the producer 5 percent liable.

According to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the crew member was killed when a train crashed into a place where the film crew was setting up for a scene. It was reported the production crew lacked permission to film on the train trestle.

Her parents, plaintiffs in the wrongful death lawsuit, say their goal was to obtain answers about what happened to their daughter and to obtain accountability for the foolish and potentially criminal actions of defendants. The director on the set served a year in jail after pleading guilty to involuntary manslaughter and criminal trespassing charges. 

Even though the crew had been trespassing on the site, operators for CSX were not oblivious to what was happening. At trial, evidence was presented indicating two trains rolled through while movie crew members stood on both sides of the track approximately one hour before the crash. Train operators failed to call dispatchers to alert them, despite the company’s policy for train employees to immediately report anytime there are trespassers on the tracks or rights of way.

The train was traveling at approximately 53 mph, and the operator of the train that struck decedent reportedly failed to apply the brakes after striking a hospital bed that had been tied to the tracks. Six other crew members were injured, while decedent was the only one killed. The train operator would later testify he didn’t apply the brakes because he feared derailment, which might result in shipping containers falling onto the people who were standing on either side of the tracks.

Attorneys for the train company said blame lie solely with the production managers, and produced evidence at trial that they had been denied permission from the train company to film on the bridge. Production managers reportedly did not relay this information to crew members, who were unaware they were trespassing.

Although work-related injuries are typically covered by workers’ compensation benefits, it’s unclear whether the camera assistant’s estate sought or had access to that. As our Orlando wrongful death attorneys can explain, claims like this would stem from third-party liability. While workers’ compensation benefits are considered an exclusive remedy, meaning injured workers can’t sue their employer, that only applies in cases where workers were employees (as opposed to independent contractors) and it doesn’t prohibit holding third-party, non-employers accountable for negligence. This is important because workers’ compensation benefits only cover medical expenses and a portion of lost wages. Workers’ compensation does not cover damages for pain and suffering, loss of consortium or punitive damages.

Call Freeman Injury Law — 1-800-561-7777 for a free appointment to discuss your rights. Now serving Orlando, West Palm Beach, Port St. Lucie and Fort Lauderdale.

Additional Resources:

Sarah Jones CSX ‘Midnight Rider’ Death Verdict to Be Appealed, July 18, 2017, Associated Press

More Blog Entries:

Report: Child Died in Hotel Swimming Pool, May 27, 2017, Orlando Wrongful Death Lawyer Blog

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