Oct 23, 2021
Thursday’s fatal prop gun shooting of a cinematographer on the New Mexico movie set of “Rust” has garnered worldwide headlines. Director of photography Halyna Hutchins was fatally shot at the Bonanza Creek Ranch when actor Alec Baldwin discharged a live round from a prop gun while preparing to film a scene. Director Joel Souza was also injured in the incident and taken to a local hospital by ambulance.
The fatal prop gun shooting is being reported as an accident. A CNN story confirmed that assistant director David Halls yelled “cold gun” after he handed the prop weapon to Alec Baldwin. The remark was meant to indicate that the prop gun did not have live rounds, according to an affidavit for a search warrant for the film set filed by the Santa Fe County Sheriff’s Office and obtained by CNN affiliate KOAT.
The affidavit confirms that Baldwin was handed one of three prop guns by assistant director Hall that were set up in a cart by an armorer (the person in charge of overseeing gun props). The affidavit also indicates that both Baldwin and Hall were unaware that the prop gun contained live rounds.
When Baldwin fired the gun, a live round struck Hutchins, 42, in the chest and wounded Souza, who was reportedly nearby.
Hutchins was airlifted to a local hospital and pronounced dead a short time later, the affidavit says.
According to a Los Angeles Times report, a half-dozen camera crew workers walked off the movie set to protest working conditions just hours before the fatal prop gun shooting occurred.
Camera operators and their assistants were reportedly “frustrated by the conditions surrounding the low-budget film, including complaints about long hours, long commutes, and waiting for their paychecks,” according to the Los Angeles Times.
Additionally, the L.A. Times report confirmed that “safety protocols standard in the industry, including gun inspections, were not strictly followed” on the film set and at least one camera operator complained to a production manager about gun safety.
The Times report goes on to state that two accidental prop gun discharges prior to the fatal incident left three crew members “particularly concerned.”
Two crew members told the Los Angeles Times that Alec Baldwin’s stunt double accidentally fired two rounds Saturday after being told the gun was “cold.” According to the Los Angeles Times report, “cold” is actually parlance for a weapon that does not have any ammunition, including blanks.
“There should have been an investigation into what happened,” a crew member told the Los Angeles Times. “There were no safety meetings. There was no assurance that it wouldn’t happen again. All they wanted to do was rush, rush, rush.”
According to the Los Angeles Times, a crew member was so alarmed by the prop gun misfires that he sent a text message to the unit production manager. “We’ve now had 3 accidental discharges. This is super unsafe,” the text messages read.
“The safety of our cast and crew is the top priority of Rust Productions and everyone associated with the company,” Rust Movie Productions said in a public statement. “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. We will continue to cooperate with the Santa Fe authorities in their investigation and offer mental health services to the cast and crew during this tragic time.”
The fatal prop gun shooting reportedly took place approximately six hours after the camera crew workers – members of the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees union – walked off the set. They were replaced by several nonunion crew members shortly thereafter.
“There are no words to convey my shock and sadness regarding the tragic accident that took the life of Halyna Hutchins, a wife, mother and deeply admired colleague of ours,” Baldwin tweeted on Friday. “I’m fully cooperating with the police investigation to address how this tragedy occurred and I am in touch with her husband, offering my support to him and his family. My heart is broken for her husband, their son, and all who knew and loved Halyna.”
When a shooting death occurs, the person who pulled the trigger is almost always considered the wrongdoer and punished accordingly. Anyone assisting or facilitating a fatal gun shooting may also be prosecuted, but the individual who actually committed the act is typically the one primarily pursued by law enforcement.
But the case of the Alec Baldwin prop gun shooting might be a rare exception. In fact, as a recent NBC News report noted, the gunman in this incident might actually be the “least responsible party,” provided that the actor reasonably believed he was pulling the trigger of an unloaded firearm.
In the case of the Alec Baldwin prop gun shooting, the weapon that killed Halyna Hutchins is actually the responsibility of the props crew members. As noted above, the assistant director is the one who put the prop gun in Baldwin’s hand, and that was only done after it had been supervised by the armorer.
Hannah Gutierrez Reed, 24, was the “Rust” movie set’s armorer. The Los Angeles Times reported that she is the daughter of veteran armorer Thell Reed and had recently completed her first film as the head armorer for the movie “The Old Way,” starring Clint Howard and Nicolas Cage.
But liability for Halyna Hutchins’ death might not simply fall on Reed. As Dordulian Law Group’s founder and president, Sam Dordulian, notes, the fatal prop gun shooting, the wounding of director Joel Souza, and any resulting emotional and psychological trauma to other crew members may be found to be the responsibility of the production company if it can be proven that negligence was involved and the movie set was systemically unsafe.
“There’s an incredible amount of liability that could potentially be placed on the production company,” former Deputy District Attorney Dordulian says. “Reports seem to indicate that this tragic incident was something that could have been prevented given the prop gun misfires that had already occurred. A wrongful death lawsuit from the family of Halyna Hutchins will likely be filed.”
Wrongful death is a subcategory of personal injury law that can cover a wide array of claims leading to lawsuits involving everything from murder to medical malpractice to major car accidents. The term ‘wrongful death’ is typically in reference to a civil lawsuit brought by the family of an individual whose death resulted from negligence or misconduct.
Wrongful death lawsuits are filed to recover various types of damages – economic, non-economic, and punitive. Wrongful death and other types of civil lawsuits are filed separately from any criminal charges, and the result of any criminal proceeding does not have an impact on a civil claim.
The most well-known example of this scenario is probably the O.J. Simpson murder case, where the former football star was found not guilty in the criminal case but held liable for substantial financial damages in the wrongful death proceedings.
In California, economic damages for wrongful death can include without limitation:
Non-economic damages for wrongful death can include without limitation:
California wrongful death lawsuits typically do not include punitive damages, as state law dictates they only be awarded in cases of serious or malicious wrongdoing in an effort to punish the wrongdoer. However, when applicable, punitive damages are not capped in the state of California.
Dordulian Law Group (DLG) was founded by former Deputy District Attorney for Los Angeles County, Sam Dordulian. As a Deputy D.A. for 13 years, Dordulian prosecuted countless gun crime cases, ensuring that life sentences were obtained for many violent offenders. With over 100 jury trial victories and a 98% success record, Dordulian offers wrongful death and other personal injury victims a level of experience that can’t be matched by most other firms.
Additionally, DLG employs an in-house Chief Investigator, Moses Castillo, who recently retired after a 30-year career with the Los Angeles Police Department (LADP). Castillo, a 20-year LAPD detective, has an extensive background in firearm safety, with knowledge of how they should be properly used and how liability can be assessed in tragic gun accidents like the Alec Baldwin prop gun shooting.
Contact us today for a free and no obligation consultation to discuss your wrongful death case at 818-322-4056. DLG and Sam Dordulian have successfully helped countless survivors recover maximum financial damages awards and obtain the justice they deserve on their own terms.
DLG’s experience and proven results are why injured victims consistently choose us to handle their claims and help ensure justice is secured. DLG provides clients added advantages and benefits that can’t be found elsewhere:
Contact us today online or by phone at 818-322-4056 for a free and no obligation consultation. When you bring your claim to one of our dedicated team members, we’ll begin an exhaustive process in pursuit of justice on your behalf that includes:
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If you’ve suffered an injury as a result of the “Rust” movie set prop gun shooting, you could have a valid civil claim and be entitled to maximum financial compensation. Accordingly, you need a skilled, trusted, and proven attorney like Sam Dordulian to help ensure you recover all applicable damages. Don’t settle for an inexperienced or unproven firm. Choose the experts at DLG who have the experience and proven results you deserve.
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