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Suing for Injuries on a Film Set in California

Suing for Injuries on a Film Set in California

The film industry in Los Angeles has given us many unforgettable cinematic moments, and it is one of the most important aspects of California’s economy. But many people do not fully realize just how dangerous it can be to work on a film schedule. With tight schedules and clashing creative personalities, accidents are commonplace. Directors often do just about anything to get the right shot – even if that means putting people’s safety on the line. So, what can you do if you have been injured on a California film set? Is it true that you sue for injuries? Do you need to file a workers’ compensation claim instead? How much could you receive in compensation, and what are your chances of successfully suing a major production company in Hollywood?

Film Set Accidents are All Too Common

Film set accidents and injuries occur on a frequent basis. On December 28, it was reported that a cameraman had been awarded $66 million after suffering an injury while shooting in New Mexico. The cameraman is from Los Angeles and was working for California-based production companies. The accident involved the plaintiff driving up a steep road while operating a mobile camera crane unit. At some point, the vehicle rolled backward, crushing and injuring the victim. He was then found to have a spinal cord injury.

The plaintiff successfully argued that the production company acted in a negligent manner. First, they denied him enough time to scout the area and plan out a safe way to get the shot. Secondly, they denied him the opportunity to install tank treads on his vehicle, which would have provided more stability. The $66-million settlement was the largest of its kind in New Mexico’s history.

In November of 2022, actress Letitia Wright revealed that she had fallen off a stunt rig in 2021 while filming Black Panther: Wakanda Forever. The incident left her hospitalized and unable to work. It was yet another example of an extremely dangerous motorcycle accident, and it resulted in a shoulder fracture with a nasty concussion.

In October of 2021, ABC listed all of the recent fatal movie set accidents after the infamous Rust incident. This, of course, involved actor Alec Baldwin fatally shooting a cinematographer with a prop gun. The incident led to many lawsuits – some of which involved Baldwin as a defendant and some with him as a plaintiff. Baldwin was initially sued as part of a wrongful death lawsuit by the family members of the deceased victim. Instead of going through a public trial, Alec Baldwin decided to quietly settle the matter for an undisclosed sum of money. He then sued other members of the production team for allowing the accident to happen in the first place.

The most notable recent film set deaths include:

  • Stuntwoman S.J. Harris, who died on the set of Deadpool 2
  • Stuntwoman Olivia Jackson, whose arm was amputated after an accident on the set of Resident Evil: The Final Chapter
  • Sarah Jones, who died after a train accident on the set of Midnight Rider
  • Michael Bridger, who died on the set of The Lone Ranger
  • Conway Wickliffe, a special effects technician who died on the set of The Dark Knight
  • Brandon Lee, the son of Bruce Lee, who died on the set of The Crow after a prop gun misfire

Suing vs. Filing a Workers’ Comp Claim After a Movie Set Injury

 You may have noticed that some of these plaintiffs have sued production companies directly instead of filing workers’ comp claims. But how is this possible if the plaintiffs are directly employed by the production companies? In this situation, plaintiffs are usually barred from suing their employers directly, and they must instead file workers’ comp claims. This is certainly how some accidents have been handled by major production companies.

But under certain circumstances, it may be possible to sue a production company directly. This mostly occurs in situations with gross negligence. Gross negligence goes beyond mere accidents, and these incidents typically involve a complete disregard for safety. Safety regulations and guidelines may have been intentionally ignored due to scheduling pressures. This is actually more common than you might think in the film industry, and it can easily lead to companies being sued directly.

Companies can also be sued because the “employees” were actually independent contractors. This is how much of the film industry operates, with actors and production staff being hired for one particular movie on a contract basis. They then move on to a different movie and receive a new contract. Because of this, they do not enjoy the same protections as an “employee,” and they are not covered by workers’ comp. This might actually work in their favor, however, as it allows them to sue the production company directly without being limited by workers’ comp.

Workers’ comp is limiting because it prevents you from claiming non-economic damages. Often, these are the most important damages in your claim, and they may seriously increase the financial value of your settlement. Of course, some production companies will simply choose to settle these lawsuits out of court, offering large sums to keep the incidents private and protect the reputations of major directors and other Hollywood figures.

Where Can I Find a Qualified Personal Injury Attorney in Redlands?

 If you have been injured on set, you have the same rights as any other American worker. At the end of the day, people who work in the film industry are the same as office workers, restaurant workers, and construction workers. Although this line of work is certainly exciting, its main function is to provide enough income to survive. When an injury takes you out, you need compensation to provide for yourself and your family. You may have many different options to consider, so get in touch with Milligan, Beswick, Levine & Knox, LLP at your earliest convenience for a consultation. During this initial meeting, we can explore various legal strategies for personal injury lawsuits in California.

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Stephen Levine, is a Board Certified Specialist in Criminal Defense — an honor achieved by only the top criminal law attorneys in California. Mr. Levine has over 40 years of experience in criminal defense and family law serving Southern California, and is a highly regarded Super Lawyer as well as AV Rated attorney.