Family of camera assistant killed while shooting on train tracks awarded over $11 million

Jul 18, 2017

John Aldred

John Aldred is a photographer with over 20 years of experience in the portrait and commercial worlds. He is based in Scotland and has been an early adopter – and occasional beta tester – of almost every digital imaging technology in that time. As well as his creative visual work, John uses 3D printing, electronics and programming to create his own photography and filmmaking tools and consults for a number of brands across the industry.

Family of camera assistant killed while shooting on train tracks awarded over $11 million

Jul 18, 2017

John Aldred

John Aldred is a photographer with over 20 years of experience in the portrait and commercial worlds. He is based in Scotland and has been an early adopter – and occasional beta tester – of almost every digital imaging technology in that time. As well as his creative visual work, John uses 3D printing, electronics and programming to create his own photography and filmmaking tools and consults for a number of brands across the industry.

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Midnight Rider was to be a biographical movie on the journey of Gregg Allman. From struggling artist to the eventual success of the Allman Brothers Band. Then the realisation that he needs to get clean or risk losing his life. It was tragically ironic, then, that filming for this movie actually did cause somebody to lose their life.

On February 20th, 2014, 27 year old camera assistant, Sarah Jones, was hit and killed by a train while filming on tracks. After a three year legal battle, a Savannah court yesterday awarded Jones’ family with $11.2 million. Oddly, though, the court determined that CSX, the train company, are liable for 35% of that, or around $3.92 million.

When the story and subsequent footage was released in November, 2014, it seemed pretty cut and dry. Especially after some pretty damaging comments from the movie’s lead actor, William Hurt. CSX say they denied the producers permission to shoot on the railway tracks. Twice. But the court found them liable for the largest chunk of the award.

They weren’t the only ones held responsible, however. It breaks down as follows.

  • 35% CSX Transportation, Inc.
  • 28% Randall Miller (Director)
  • 18% Rayonier Performance Fibers (Who own the land surrounding the tracks)
  • 7% Jody Savin (Producer)
  • 7% Hillary Schwartz (First AD)
  • 5% Jay Sedrish (Executive Producer)

Deadline reports that the jurors say that Jones had zero liability, as one would probably expect, given Hurt’s concerns that safety was ensured. But, given that CSX denied permission for the crew to film on the tracks several times, and the crew went ahead and did it anyway, I don’t see how they’re to blame for any of this. They shouldn’t have been there in the first place.

Equally as surprising is that the jury found location manager, Charley Baxter is also free of liability. As the location manager, surely it is his job to ensure that a location is suitable and safe for filming?

The production company, Allman LLC was also fined $74,900 by OSHA in 2014, although that figure pales in comparison to yesterday’s judgement. Director Randall Miller, wife & busines partner, Jody Savin, and executive producer, Jay Sedrish were also charged with involuntary manslaughter and criminal trespassing in 2014.

Sarah’s parents, Richard and Elizabeth Jones released a statement after the trial was concluded.

Elizabeth and I have spent the last 3 plus years wanting to understand how our daughter, Sarah Elizabeth Jones, tragically lost her life. That search has now come to a close.

Sarah’s life was a bright beacon of hope that was snuffed out too soon.

Elizabeth and I want to thank our attorney, Jeff Harris, his partners and exceptional staff, who worked so hard for Sarah. We also would like to thank our Columbia attorney Jake Moore for his guidance.

We felt that this trial was necessary in order to learn what happened that tragic day of February 20, 2014. It is only with the discovery of what could have been done differently that we might avoid another similar tragic loss of life.

We have learned much from this trial. No doubt that the decisions made by those in charge of Film Allman, LLC were foolish, criminal and, in our view, selfish. That said, this trial disclosed a number of exceptionally poor judgements and ignored opportunities by CSX Transportation to prevent this tragedy. Frankly, I believe that the evidence in this trial indicated that CSX has systemic issues that need corrected.

We miss you Sarah.

I’m happy that the matter is finally over for Sarah’s family and that they have some closure. Although, I still don’t understand how the rail company are in any way liable for any of this.

[via Deadline]

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John Aldred

John Aldred

John Aldred is a photographer with over 20 years of experience in the portrait and commercial worlds. He is based in Scotland and has been an early adopter – and occasional beta tester – of almost every digital imaging technology in that time. As well as his creative visual work, John uses 3D printing, electronics and programming to create his own photography and filmmaking tools and consults for a number of brands across the industry.

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26 responses to “Family of camera assistant killed while shooting on train tracks awarded over $11 million”

  1. Garech Amos Avatar
    Garech Amos

    No.. It is private property and they were trespassing.

  2. Becky Haynes Gilliam Avatar
    Becky Haynes Gilliam

    No, everyone should know to stay away from train tracks.

  3. DanaSue Van Kampen Avatar
    DanaSue Van Kampen

    This is why the cost of goods and services is so astronomical. The price of insurance and attorney fees has to be factored in to determine profit margin. Ridiculous.

  4. András Kühn Avatar
    András Kühn

    I am rather curious what the prosecution and the decision makers in this case thought were unclear about “DENIED PERMISSION”. Should CSX have taken out an ad in the local paper saying “people who d*ck around on the tracks might be killed by trains”? Should they have posted fences and patrolling guards along their railways? An all this while letting the location manager/scout off the hook? The individual(s) responsible for permissions and safety of the location, who should’ve (so very ironically) pulled the breaks on production while these things were lacking…? This is just baffling.

  5. Troublemann Avatar
    Troublemann

    When the train company denied access and permission to film on the tracks and the crew went ahead and did it anyway, how is the train company CSX held accountable? Is it they had the deepest pockets?

  6. David Harpe Avatar
    David Harpe

    The liability came into play because two previous trains passed through the shooting location, saw the production crew on either side of the tracks, and didn’t report it. CSX procedures state that any trespassers be treated as a railroad emergency and should be immediately reported. The train engineers thought the production crew was either railfans or just people taking pictures…a common sight along railroads. The location where the accident occurred was just a few feet from a grade crossing (road runs across the tracks with no crossing gates) so you can understand why an engineer wouldn’t immediately think trespassing when they saw people in that area – particularly since the train was moving 50+ miles an hour.

    Still they didn’t technically follow “procedures”, which is how lawyers make their money. Bad situation all around.

  7. Derek Smallwood Avatar
    Derek Smallwood

    Lawyers are ruining this country. Middle schooler who electrocuted herself in the bath while charging her phone – bet her family successfully sues the phone cord company.. Its a tragedy, but the company shouldn’t be held responsible when people make bad decisions like these.

    1. Steve Solis Avatar
      Steve Solis

      Like in most professions, it’s an abuse of the industry. The phone cord company probably had an awful lawyer if that’s the case. Why not argue to sue the makers of the bathtub for it being to deep? Why not sue house builder for having outlet too close to bathtub?

    2. Derek Smallwood Avatar
      Derek Smallwood

      This little girl just died not too long ago, so no legal actions have been made- if they are. But that is the mentality today, get hurt, get the sympathy of the public, then sue the richest entity and let the lawyers make you rich no matter who is truly responsible.

      Don’t have a problem with lawsuits that make sense. For example someone texting and driving then hitting your car, fine make them pay for being stupid. But trying to sue the car company of the vehicle that hit you is, in that situation, pathetic

      1. Jayson Carey Avatar
        Jayson Carey

        Little girl? She was a woman and a professional camera assistant. Also, this was several years ago. The producer has already gotten arrested, sentenced, served half the time (one of two years), and was released already.

  8. Jo Avatar
    Jo

    We live in a mad world…

  9. AprilJo Donald Klumb Avatar
    AprilJo Donald Klumb

    Where was the common sense, people are really getting stupid.

  10. Noah Tahl Avatar
    Noah Tahl

    Every incident of people near the tracks will now be reported and CSX (and presumably other companies) will then respond by sending someone to check and get people to leave, if anyone is there when the checker arrives. After a while, because people often won’t be there or it keeps happening, checkers won’t be bothered, but the company will have covered its posterior. And stupid people will continue to get themselves killed. Following a few more suits, all land owners with tracks crossing their property will have to post armed guards to stop trespassers.

  11. Sergi Yavorski Avatar
    Sergi Yavorski

    WTF?

  12. Steven Naranjo Avatar
    Steven Naranjo

    WTH could the train company possibly have ignored that they would be considered responsible when they deny them from filming on their train tracks!!! Obviously anyone part of the production of the film is responsible. That’s why they were told not to film on the train tracks.

  13. Madara Avatar
    Madara

    “… this trial disclosed a number of exceptionally poor judgements and ignored opportunities by CSX Transportation to prevent this tragedy. Frankly, I believe that the evidence in this trial indicated that CSX has systemic issues that need corrected.”

    I really like to know what they were. If there are tracks I’d assume a train could come through whenever needed. Also including the utility company who owns the property surrounding the tracks is ridiculous. It’s quite common for utilities to be run adjacent to railway Right-of-Ways. It’s like the are blaming the CSX and the utility for not having a force field around their property to keep stupid people off. It’s sad someone had to die, but the blame lies solely with the production who decided to break the law and endanger their crew. They should be charged with manslaughter.

  14. Jennifer Stratton Short Avatar
    Jennifer Stratton Short

    That would be like suing Walmart after someone chokes on food they bought there.

  15. Jessica Mendez Avatar
    Jessica Mendez

    I thought photographers/filmographers use tracks that are no longer in service?

  16. Brant Dempster Avatar
    Brant Dempster

    This should never have happened. Surely this family had the right to sue. Surely they should be compensated…And surely this family realizes that correct and proper thing for this family to do is to return any paid monies by CSX back to CSX – as a grant for compensation to injured rail workers and families – who suffer injury due to incidents caused in crossing collisions, suicide by train, trespassers & rail tampering, etc..

  17. Keith A Varley Avatar
    Keith A Varley

    No.

  18. Randy Dalton Avatar
    Randy Dalton

    I don’t understand juries at all. There is no doubt someone is at fault as the person killed was most likely under the assumption that everything was proper. Finding the rail company liable to such a degree though is asinine. They had clearly stated that they were not granting permission for the shoot. It has always been my understanding that the railroad track and beds are their property. Even being on them could be cause for trespass. I’m so very sorry this young person came to such a tragic end, but the responsibility for that should lie solely on those responsible for the movie production.

    1. Russ TheMaster Avatar
      Russ TheMaster

      That is a large part of what is wrong with our nation now, everyone wants more rights but no one accepts responsability for their actions.

  19. Karen Danks Avatar
    Karen Danks

    I read another article that stated that two other trains saw the film crew on the tracks but didn’t alert the proper people (dispatchers maybe?)
    That is being used as one of the reasons that CSX was found partly liable.
    Personally, I feel they shouldn’t be held at all. They denied the film company 3 damn times and yet they still went and did what they wanted.

  20. Chongo Yu Avatar
    Chongo Yu

    this is why we can’t have nice things ma.

  21. Ali Stewart Avatar
    Ali Stewart

    What the hell!
    Imagine what the poor train driver is going through!
    Some guy used my Pop’s train to commit suicide, and it haunted Pop till the day he died.
    Natural selection at work

  22. Andrea Gruber Avatar
    Andrea Gruber

    This is very American. Everyone is suing everyone for everything. Coffee too hot? Suing. Burglar gets caught in ones garage. He sues the homeowners. People too stupid to fix a drawer to the wall even though it is clearly outlined in the instructions to do so. People sue. It is beyond ridiculous.