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When Bad Decisions Result in Wrongful Death


Movies make for great entertainment. But what goes into making a major motion picture can prove to be dangerous. For stunt people, taking risks is part of the job. For most other production people, the process shouldn’t be quite so hazardous. Of course, shooting on location can be another story.

The jarring reality of loss is something still fresh for the parents of one young camera assistant. She died in February 2014 after being struck by a freight train. She was on a trestle helping shoot a scene. What she and most of her crewmates didn’t know is that they didn’t have the authority to be there. Now, the parents are suing the railroad for her wrongful death.

This week, the trial began in Georgia. As is almost always the case in such circumstances, this fatality is one that can’t be passed off as an accident. The National Transportation Safety Board and local investigators determined years ago that the crew’s trespassing on the rail line – despite repeated denials of access from the railroad – was the probable cause and that it could be prevented.

There is no apparent dispute that producer negligence can be blamed for the 27-year-old woman’s death. Her parents, though, say the railroad company is responsible, too. They say workers on several trains that passed through the site earlier failed to follow company policy that required reporting trespassers on the tracks. If they had, the collision would likely not have happened. The railroad says all liability rests with the production company.

The final determination on that issue is something that will be decided by the jury – unless a settlement is reached before deliberations begin.

Our purpose in highlighting this case is not to point fingers. Rather, it seems to us that the chronology of the events in this matter from 2014 to today provides readers useful insight into the workings of the civil court system.