“Midnight Rider” Filmmakers Contesting OSHA Fines Tied to Camera Assistant’s Death

“Midnight Rider” Filmmakers Contesting OSHA Fines Tied to Camera Assistant’s Death

by / Monday, 09 February 2015 / Published in Workplace Woes

Filmmakers working on the film “Midnight Rider” are attempting to appeal penalties issued by the Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) in relation to an accident that killed one person and injured eight other workers.

“Midnight Rider” was to be a movie about the life of musician Gregg Allman starring William Hurt as Allman. The incident in question happened on February 20, 2014 while the film crew was attempting to film a dream sequence on a train trestle in Doctortown, Georgia in which the character of Allman is laying in a hospital bed placed on train tracks. While they were setting up the shot, a train unexpectedly came down the tracks, killing 27-year-old camera assistant Sarah Jones.

OSHA issued nearly $75,000 in fines against the producers of “Midnight Rider” for exposing workers to fall hazards without adequate protection and for failing to take enough steps to protect workers from moving trains. Producers responded saying they took reasonable steps to protect the cast and crew and that this was an isolated incident and isn’t a reflection of the safe work history of the filmmakers.  A hearing for the filmmakers to appeal OSHA’s citations has been scheduled for March 31.

One of the key issues the filmmakers are currently facing is whether or not they had permission to film on the train tracks in the first place. CSX Transportation, who owns the train tracks that were being filmed on, says the production asked for permission to film on the tracks multiple times and their requests were denied each time. Location manager Charley Baxter was not on set the day of the accident, but stated in court papers that he wasn’t able to get permission to film on the tracks. Producers say they were under the impression they did have permission to be on the tracks. According to producers,a representative of Rayonier, who owns the property surrounding the train tracks, let the crew onto the property and informed them two trains would be coming down the tracks that day. Producers claim they watched two trains pass by and weren’t expecting any more trains to be coming through that day. Filmmakers did have permission from Rayonier to film on their property that day.

Following the accident, the production company behind “Midnight Rider” filed a claim with the film’s insurance company when filming was forced to be shut down. The insurance company denied their claim, calling the filmmakers’ actions, “…so careless, reckless, and negligent as to cause and contribute in some degree to the alleged damages.”

The OSHA fines are just one of many issues the producers of “Midnight Rider” have faced since the incident. In November 2014, director Randall Miller, producer Jody Savin, executive producer Jay Sedrish, and other defendants reached a settlement with the family of Sarah Jones. Miller, Savin, Sedrish and first assistant director Hillary Schwartz are each facing involuntary manslaughter charges in Jones’ death. The filmmakers are also facing criminal trespass charges.

In memory of Sarah Jones, a PSA was premiered at the Sundance Film Festival encouraging increased awareness of workplace safety on film sets.

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