Although one typically thinks of Hollywood as being the prime location for the American film industry, North Carolina actually does have a budding film industry for movies, television productions, and reality show series.
What is even less known about this industry is the fact that many people – on both sides of the camera – suffer serious work-related injuries that are rarely reported to the public at-large, and these often result in a few thousand dollars in federal fines – a pittance in comparison to the often colossal, multi-million dollar budgets of some productions.
The Associated Press recently delved into this issue, reporting that workers frequently are seriously injured – with broken bones, burns, lacerations, and more – in the vast entertainment industry. Of course, there are the obvious risks associated with stunts and explosives. Also, there are less glamorous falls from ladders, faulty equipment, and machines operated without proper safety guards.
The AP reports that since 1990, some 43 people have been killed on film sets in the U.S. More than 150 have suffered severe, life-altering injuries. These figures were gleaned from workplace and aviation safety data, news accounts, and court records. However, those numbers only shed light on part of the story because, as the AP learned, there were several incidents in which work accidents resulting in serious injuries didn’t show up in investigative reports – including serious set accident reports on file with the U.S. Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA).
Among the incidents most often not included in these records were those that occurred outside traditional production sets in California and New York. One of the biggest? A North Carolina film set death. In 1993, actor Brandon Lee was fatally shot in North Carolina during the filming of the movie “The Crow.” OSHA officials reportedly compiled a 1,500-page investigative file on the workplace death, yet it was omitted from OSHA’s database of most serious work accidents.
After that incident, OSHA imposed a fine of $84,000 against the production company, but it later lowered that fine to $55,000. That may sound like a sizable chunk, but consider the movie grossed $50 million.
When a worker was killed in 2011 after falling from an aerial platform in Louisiana while filming “G.I. Joe: Retaliation,” OSHA required Paramount Pictures to pay $21,000. Meanwhile, the movie grossed $122 million just in North America.
In almost half of the cases in which OSHA fined a studio or production company for safety violations resulting in serious accidents, the penalties were reduced – often by half or more.
Meanwhile, most workers are prohibited from suing their employers due to workers’ compensation exclusivity rules. That means the workers or their families can collect workers’ compensation benefits, but these are often much lower than what they might receive in a personal injury lawsuit. Although workers don’t have to prove the company was negligent, neither can they collect compensation for pain and suffering or seek punitive damages.
In other countries, there are records of at least 37 people killed in filming accidents in the last 16 years. That includes the recent death of a worker in Budapest on the set of a sequel to “Blade Runner.” There was also another incident in Indiana in which two stuntmen drowned while performing a stunt. Dozens more have been seriously injured, but reporters were unable to track any compiled data on filming accidents internationally.
Most of those who garner attention are the actors. But there are many who work to make a production happen, and their safety should be a top priority.
Contact the Carolina workers’ compensation lawyers at the Lee Law Offices by calling 800-887-1965.
AP: Too quiet on the set; filming accidents often go untold, Nov. 21, 2016, By Anthony McCartney, Associated Press
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Report: North Carolina Work Injury Rate Drops, Nov. 25, 2016, Charlotte Work Accident Lawyer Blog