Stunt Performer’s $8 Million Judgement Was Reversed Because Employers Had Workers’ Compensation Immunity

Written by: Rayford H. Taylor, Esq.

The case of Stalwart Films, LLC v. Bernecker, 855 S.E.2d 120 (2021) involved a wrongful death action brought by a stunt performer’s family against the film production company and television show producer alleging negligence arising from his fatal fall during the filming of a television show.  The State Court entered an $8,000,000.00 judgment following a jury verdict for the family.  The company and producers appealed.

While this case was a negligence claim, the central issue was whether the various employers were entitled to workers’ compensation immunity.  The appellate court concluded the employers had workers’ compensation immunity because the injured worker was either a direct employee or a borrowed servant at the time of the accident.  Under the ruling in this case, it may not matter who the direct employer of an injured worker is if another employer had control over the activities and functions of the worker.  Both employers might be held responsible for the injured worker’s injuries, benefits, or death if the employers are found to exercise significant control over the injured worker.

In the case on appeal, Mr. Bernecker was performing a high stunt fall from a balcony during the filming of an episode of Season 8 of “The Walking Dead.”  He was to fall over a balcony and land on his back approximately twenty feet below in a “catcher system”.  He was fatally injured when his head struck the unprotected concrete between the “catcher system” and the wall under the balcony.  Mr. Bernecker’s family filed negligence claims arising from his injuries and death.

On appeal, the Defendants argued the Plaintiffs’ claims were barred by the exclusive remedy provisions of Georgia’s Workers’ Compensation Statute.  The undisputed evidence established that Bernecker was an employee of Stalwart when he performed the stunt on the day in question.  Mr. Bernecker’s family argued that he was an independent contractor so he was not an employee, and therefore not subject to the exclusive immunity provisions of the Workers’ Compensation Act.

The Court found Bernecker could request some minor changes to assist him in performing the stunt or could have refused to perform the stunt if it was unsafe.  However, Stalwart retained the right to control the time, place, manner, and method of the work that Bernecker performed.  All of his activities were subject to the direction of Stalwart and he was expected to perform when it was time for the stunt.  He did not possess any authority to change the time of when he could perform.  The Plaintiffs relied heavily on the fact Stalwart had issued Bernecker an IRS Form 1099 and had not withheld any taxes as evidence Bernecker’s employment was that of an independent contractor.

The Court ultimately concluded that Bernecker was either an employee of Stalwart or a borrowed servant.  In either case, claims against Stalwart were covered by Georgia’s Workers’ Compensation Act and negligence claims against Stalwart were prohibited.  The Court went on to also find that the Workers’ Compensation Act provided protection to other individuals who were co-employees of Bernecker.  Therefore, the negligence verdict was reversed.

For more information on this case, or for any other questions regarding workers’ compensation claims in Georgia, please contact attorney Rayford H. Taylor, Esq. at

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