Potential Legal Problems Build Up After “Rust” Shooting Tragedy

LOS ANGELES – Actor Alec Baldwin, who pulled the trigger on a propeller pistol while filming “Rust” in New Mexico and unintentionally killed a cinematographer and injured a director, is unlikely to be held criminally or civilly responsible for the tragedy.

But producer Alec Baldwin, along with several others, could be in executive positions for the Western.

Experts predict huge legal fallout from the tragedy, certainly in civil lawsuits and potentially in criminal charges. In addition to Baldwin, a day of shoot call sheet obtained by The Associated Press lists five producers, four executive producers, one executive producer and one co-producer. They, along with assistant manager Dave Halls and gunsmith Hannah Gutierrez, could all face some sort of liability even if they weren’t there on Thursday.

The payments – which could be covered in part by insurance held by the production company, Rust Movie Productions – would likely be in the range of “millions and millions” of dollars.

“There was clearly some negligence on set,” said Adam Winkler, UCLA law school professor and gun policy expert. “The producers had a duty to keep the team safe. There were obvious dangers on set.

Authorities said Friday that Halls, the deputy director, handed the gun to Baldwin and advertised a “cold weapon”, saying it was safe to use. But it was loaded with live bullets. Cinematographer Halyna Hutchins was shot and killed and director Joel Souza, who was standing behind her, was injured.

Baldwin, who is known for his roles in “30 Rock” and “The Hunt for Red October” and his impression of former President Donald Trump on “Saturday Night Live”, described the murder as a “tragic accident”.

The production of “Rust” has been rife with disputes since early October and included seven crew members who left the set hours before filming. The Los Angeles Times, citing two crew members it did not name, reported that five days before the shooting, Baldwin’s stuntman accidentally fired two live ammunition after learning the weapon had no ammunition.

Alarmed by the misfires, a team member said in a text message to a production manager at one unit: “We have now had 3 accidental discharges. It’s super dangerous, ”according to a copy of the post reviewed by the newspaper.

Winkler called the previous failures – and the apparent lack of any action taken after them – “a recipe for very substantial liability for damages.”

“You cannot have a dangerous situation, know it and do nothing afterwards,” he said.

Rust Movie Productions, the production company, said it is cooperating with Santa Fe authorities in their investigation.

“While we have not been made aware of any official complaints regarding the safety of weapons or props on set, we will be conducting an internal review of our procedures while production is down,” Rust Movie Productions said in a statement to the Los Angeles Times.

Although New Mexico law defines manslaughter in part as a lawful act that resulted in death “unlawfully or without due care and caution,” defense attorney Nina Marino said she doubted that a criminal case would be initiated.

“If a local agency in New Mexico were to go ahead with criminal charges it would have a really chilling effect on further filming in New Mexico and I think New Mexico appreciates the business,” said Marino, which specializes in white collar workers. case as a co-founder of the Kaplan Marino law firm.

Any movie requires insurance coverage, and any policy for a western would cover the use of horses, other animals, and firearms. Thursday’s call sheet alone mentions multiple guns, multiple horses, and a daily snake wrestler.

An insurer would likely cover any accidental event, but the company might not pay for negligence claims on a film set, according to Julie Shapiro, a law professor and director of the Entertainment and Media Law Institute at Loyola Law School.

The insurance company will do its own investigation, Shapiro said, to determine if there was negligence. The exact wording of the policy will determine what the company would pay.

Although Baldwin, the other producers, the assistant director and the gunsmith may be named as parties to a civil action, not all of them can be held liable, particularly if they did not play any role in the safety aspects of the action. production or held only a vanity. credit. The plaintiffs would likely attack the deepest pockets of the production company.

“How much? How much will the insurance cover it? It’s a waste of life – there is no amount you can invest,” Shapiro said.

Deaths on set have led to security reforms in the past, but Jeff Harris – founding partner of Harris Lowry Manton LLP and lead lawyer in two high-profile lawsuits involving accidental deaths on TV and movie sets, including Including stuntman John Bernecker on “The Walking Dead” and camera assistant Sarah Jones on “Midnight Rider” – said incidents like these are rare if the cast and crew follow standard regulations for them. use of firearms in the film industry.

“They are not complicated,” said Harris. “They’ve been around for years. And it struck me – it doesn’t happen if basic security policies are followed. The end.”


Bahr reported from Pittsburgh.

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