Alec Baldwin and Others Involved With the Movie Rust Might Face Legal Fallout From the Shooting Tragedy
LOS ANGELES — Alec Baldwin the actor, who pulled the trigger on a prop gun while filming “Rust” in New Mexico and unwittingly killed a cinematographer and injured a director, likely won’t be held criminally or civilly liable for the tragedy.
Alec Baldwin, the producer may be Alec Baldwin and several other Western leaders.
Experts foresee a significant legal fallout following the tragedy. There will be civil lawsuits as well as criminal charges. Baldwin was not alone. The Associated Press obtained a callsheet for the shooting day that included five producers, four executive producer(s), a line producer (and a coproducer). They, as well as assistant director Dave Halls and armorer Hannah Gutierrez, could all face some sort of liability even if they weren’t on location Thursday.
The payouts — which could be covered in part by insurance held by the production company, Rust Movie Productions — would likely be in the “millions and millions” of dollars.
“There was clearly negligence on the set,” said Adam Winkler, a professor at the UCLA School of Law and a gun policy expert. “The producers had a duty to preserve the safety of the crew. There were obvious hazards on the set.”
Mary Carmack Altwies, Santa Fe’s District Attorney, told the AP Tuesday that her investigation was still in its preliminary phase. Her office is far away from making decisions on whether charges will be brought. The production was being carried out by people who were willing to cooperate with law enforcement, she said.
There are “a lot of people involved and a lot of moving parts,” the first-term elected prosecutor said of the circumstances surrounding the shooting death on the set of “Rust.”
Authorities said Friday that Halls, the assistant director, had handed the weapon to Baldwin and announced “cold gun,” indicating it was safe to use. It was loaded with live ammunition. Halyna Hutchins, the cinematographer, was shot and killed, while Joel Souza was there to support her. He was also wounded.
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,” has described the killing as a “tragic accident.”
The production of “Rust” has been beset by disputes from the start in early October and included seven crew members walking off the set just hours before the shooting. The Los Angeles Times, citing two crew members it did not name, reported that five days before the shooting, Baldwin’s stunt double accidentally fired two live rounds after being told the gun didn’t have any ammunition.
Alarmed by the misfires, a crew member told a unit production manager in a text message, “We’ve now had 3 accidental discharges. This is super unsafe,” according to a copy of the message reviewed by the newspaper.
Winkler called the previous misfires — and an apparent lack of any action taken after them — “a recipe for a very significant liability in damages.”
“You can’t have a dangerous situation, know about it and then do nothing,” he said.
Rust Film Productions is a production company that says it will cooperate with Santa Fe police in the investigation.
“Though we were not made aware of any official complaints concerning weapon or prop safety on set, we will be conducting an internal review of our procedures while production is shut down,” Rust Movie Productions said in a statement to The Los Angeles Times.
Although New Mexico law defines involuntary manslaughter in part as a lawful act that resulted in death from “an unlawful manner or without due caution and circumspection,” defense attorney Nina Marino said she doubts any criminal case would be filed.
“If a local agency in New Mexico was going to go forward with criminal charges, that would have a real chilling effect on further filming taking place in New Mexico, and I think New Mexico appreciates the business,” said Marino, who specializes in white collar cases as a co-founder of the Kaplan Marino law firm.
Films require insurance coverage. A policy covering a Western will cover the use of firearms, horses and other animals. Only Thursday’s call sheet lists multiple guns, horses, and a daily snake handler.
An insurer would likely cover any accidental events, but the company might not pay for negligence claims on a movie set, according to Julie Shapiro, law professor and director of Loyola Law School’s Entertainment and Media Law Institute.
Shapiro stated that the insurance company would conduct its own investigation to find out if there was negligence. It will be determined by the specific wording of your policy what you would pay.
While Baldwin, the other producers, the assistant director and the armorer might be named as parties in a civil lawsuit, not all may be found to be liable — particularly if they played no role in the safety aspects of the production or only held a vanity credit. The plaintiffs would likely go after the production company’s deeper pockets.
“How much? What is the insurance coverage? This is a loss of life — there is no dollar amount you can place,” Shapiro said.
In the past, safety measures have been introduced to prevent on-set accidents. But Jeff Harris — founding partner at Harris Lowry Manton LLP and the lead attorney in two high-profile trials involving accidental deaths on television and film sets, 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 regulations that are standard for the use of firearms in the film industry.
“They’re not complicated,” Harris said. “They’ve been around for years. And it struck me — you don’t have this happen if basic safety policies are being followed. The end.”
Bahr reported in Pittsburgh. Morgan Lee, an Associated Press journalist from Santa Fe (New Mexico), contributed to this article.