The jury in the civil lawsuit against AMC Networks following the death of The Walking Dead stuntman John Bernecker is being asked to consider damages in the range of $40 million to $100 million. This is according to reporting by Deadline. Attorney Jeff Harris, who is representing Bernecker's family in the trial, said that the 33-year-old stuntman "was going to live 40 to 50 more years. 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.” Harris also asked for punitive damages.
Bernecker sustained head injuries while performing a stunt for The Walking Dead that required him to fall head-first over a railed balcony. He was meant to land on a crash pad but instead fell onto a hard surface. He died two days later.
Harris made an emotional appeal to the jury, showing video footage of Bernecker's life as a stuntman and with his family. He also quoted a Clint Eastwood line from Unforgiven: “When you take away a man’s life, you take away everything he was and everything he was going to be.”
AMC Network's defense has stated that the company was not involved in the day-to-day operations of the productions and should therefore not be held responsible for the accident. Harris tried to poke holes in that defense by showing instances of what he called "micromanaging" by AMC.
AMC also claims that Bernecker's death was a "horrific" accident, but that the plaintiff's attorney hasn't made the case that it was the result of a failure to follow safety protocols. In his closing arguments, attorney David Dial for the defense encouraged jurors not to feel pressured to assign blame for an accident that was no one's fault.
This was a departure from Dial's earlier arguments. He had suggested that Bernecker's improvising during the stunt performance — hanging onto the railing with his left hand instead of going straight over as had been planned — changed the expected trajectory of the fall and caused Bernecker to miss the crashpad. He told the jury that the stunt coordinator did not “foresee he was going to go under the balcony and missed the middle of the catcher pad by nine feet,”
Bernecker's mother, Susan, filed suit against AMC Networks and production company Stalwart Film in January 2018, about six months after her son's death. AMC is also embroiled in two lawsuits with former The Walking Dead showrunner Frank Darabont. The network has filed a motion to have one of those complaints dismissed.