Alec Baldwin’s gun shooting: experts predict legal fallout

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The shooting death of cinematographer Halyna Hutchins on a film set in New Mexico could have far-reaching legal ramifications, experts said – not only for the companies involved but also for the individuals, including the star. and producer Alec Baldwin.

Hutchins was killed and director Joel Souza injured Thursday by a gun Baldwin discharged while filming “Rust”.

No criminal charges have been laid in this case, which is currently under investigation by authorities in Santa Fe.

Baldwin, the film’s lead actor as well as one of its producers, said on Friday that he was “fully cooperating with the police investigation” into the death. “There are no words to express my shock and sadness over the tragic accident which claimed the life of Halyna Hutchins, a deeply admired wife, mother and colleague,” Baldwin wrote in a series of tweets.

A representative for Baldwin declined to comment further on Saturday.

Lawyers and law professors said several people and entities involved in the production could face civil liability due to the death. Fatal accidents involving firearms on set are rare, and film and television productions have rigorous protocols for the use of firearms to prevent injuries. When deaths occur, lawsuits usually ensue.

“Someone must have been careless,” said Gregory Keating, a professor at USC Gould School of Law. “This is not done without negligence. There are security protocols that are supposed to be followed. It really is just a question of who is negligent and how the responsibility is distributed. Then it gets cloudy because the facts are cloudy.

Lawsuits can result in millions of dollars in damages. The family of Sarah Jones, a crew member killed in a train crash in 2014 while filming “Midnight Rider,” received $ 11.2 million after filing a wrongful death complaint.

Liability for the “Rust” case will depend on the extent of the alleged negligence. The gunsmith, the person responsible for the gun accessories used during filming, could be prosecuted, as could the assistant director who allegedly handed the gun to Baldwin, Keating said.

The Associated Press, citing court records, reported on Friday that Baldwin received the gun from assistant director Dave Halls, who said it could be safely used in the moments before the actor fired it. The deputy director was unaware the propeller pistol was loaded with live ammunition, according to a search warrant filed with a Santa Fe county court. Halls did not respond to the Times’ request for comment.

In the film industry, a live bullet refers to a gun loaded with material such as a blank ready to be filmed, a source close to the International Alliance of Theater Employees told The Times.

The gunsmith, Hannah Gutierrez Reed, could not be reached for comment. The 24-year-old is the daughter of veteran gunsmith Thell Reed and had recently completed her first film.

Production company “Rust” could face significant damage in civil action, legal experts said, especially if it turned out that producers of the low-budget feature had saved time. and money and bypassed standard security procedures. Baldwin could be named in a negligence lawsuit, not because he held the gun but because he is one of the producers.

“I would be shocked if there were no lawsuit against the production company,” said Bryan Sullivan, partner at Early Sullivan Wright Gizer & McRae. “They could name Alec Baldwin for leverage, or the gunsmith or the main producer, but in the end they are all employees of the production company and any responsibility would be thrown out of the company and whatever the insurance they have. “

Members of the “Rust” team told The Times that safety protocols, including gun inspections, were not strictly followed on set. One of the cameramen complained last weekend to a gun safety production manager, they said.

Baldwin’s double stuntman accidentally fired two shots on Oct. 16 after learning the weapon was “cold,” said two crew members who witnessed the incident. A coworker alarmed by the hiccups texted the unit’s production manager, The Times reported.

Production company Rust Movie Productions said in a statement Friday that it “had not been made aware of any official complaints regarding the safety of weapons or props on set.”

“The safety of our players and our team is the top priority for Rust Productions and everyone associated with the company,” the statement said. He added, “We will be doing an internal review of our procedures while production is down. We will continue to cooperate with the Santa Fe authorities in their investigation and to provide mental health services to the cast and crew during this tragic time. “

Producers did not respond to requests for additional comment on Saturday.

“There is no explanation why this is happening on a set where there is no civil negligence,” said attorney Jeff Harris, who has worked on cases involving injury and death on sets. cinema and television. “Could it rise to the level of criminal negligence? This is what we are going to need to know more about. In terms of upstream accountability, you hear people say that the set was in chaos. To me, that’s kind of a systemic recipe for trouble.

Lawyers have warned that there are still many unanswered questions regarding the incident, which quickly became the dominant topic of conversation among crew workers in Hollywood.

“What security protocols do they have in place? Said Stuart Fraenkel of Nelson & Fraenkel, who has represented clients including Olivia Jackson, the stuntwoman seriously injured in an accident while filming “Resident Evil: The Final Chapter”. “Have they had any security meetings? We do not know yet.

Some could face manslaughter charges, depending on the outcome of the investigation, said Richard Kaplan, a Los Angeles defense attorney who represents white-collar clients.

In New Mexico, manslaughter charges can be brought against someone who commits a lawful act resulting in death through negligence or carelessness.

“There’s someone who’s supposed to make sure things like this don’t happen,” Kaplan said. “If anyone has a responsibility, it would be that person who was in charge of the armory on the set.”

Still, experts said there may not be any criminal charges in this case. When asked about Baldwin’s vulnerability, several lawyers noted that the actor was said to have been told the gun was safe when it was handed over to him.

Criminal cases involving fatalities on set are rare, but they did happen. Director John Landis and other filmmakers were found not guilty of manslaughter in the deaths of actor Vic Morrow and two child actors who were killed in 1982 on the set of “Twilight Zone: The Movie”.

“Many prosecutors’ offices have followed this case and learned a lesson from it, namely: do not take what is fundamentally civil negligence and do not make it a criminal case,” the criminal defense lawyer said. Glen T. Jonas of Torrance. Jonas & Driscoll firm. “There are circumstances where you could criminally sue someone for gross negligence, but just because you can, doesn’t mean you should. “

In a counterexample, director Randall Miller spent a year in jail after pleading guilty to manslaughter over the death of Jones, the camera assistant who was killed in Georgia when a train collided with a “Midnight Rider” film crew.



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