Legal troubles mounted for the producers of “Midnight Rider” this week as railroad company CSX Transportation sued the filmmakers, claiming that they illegally filmed on its tracks where a train collided with the crew earlier this year.
CSX said in a countersuit that the producers trespassed on its property before a freight train crashed into the crew as they were filming a scene for the Gregg Allman biopic on a historic train trestle near Jesup, Ga.
The accident killed 27-year-old camera assistant Sarah Jones and injured several other crew members, touching off a national debate about safety on film sets.
In May, Jones’ parents filed a wrongful-death lawsuit against the Pasadena-based producers of the movie — Randall Miller (also the director), his wife Jody Savin, and Jay Sedrish, an executive producer and unit production manager. CSX and others involved in the project were also named as defendants.
CSX filed a response this week in Chatham County State Court denying negligence and alleging that Jones put herself in a dangerous situation.
CSX also filed a counter claim against the producers, saying that it twice denied permission to filmmakers to shoot on its tracks. The Wayne County Sheriff’s Office also has said filmmakers did not have permission to film on the railway.
“CSXT unequivocally denied each request in writing, citing a company policy which prohibits filming on CSXT’s property due to safety and security reasons,” the complaint states.
Attorneys for the filmmakers were not immediately available for comment.
“Sarah had no knowledge of the imminent danger awaiting her when she went to work that morning,” said Jeffrey Harris, attorney for Jones’ parents. “To the contrary, she believed those in charge of the Midnight Rider production had taken the appropriate safety precautions and secured permission to film on the railroad tracks. It would also be reasonable to trust that CSX would follow its own safety measures by notifying its train operators that a film crew was setting up next to their tracks. The tragic truth is, the defendants failed to live up to their obligations.”
CSX declined to comment on the litigation. “We continue to extend our sympathies to those involved in this tragedy,” said Kristin Seay, spokeswoman for CSX.
A Georgia grand jury on July 2 indicted Miller, Savin and Sedrish on charges of involuntary manslaughter and criminal trespass. Miller, Savin and Sedrish have pleaded not guilty and have denied wrongdoing.
Last month, the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration cited the Pasadena company Film Allman LLC for “one willful and one serious safety violation” for exposing employees to hazards, with proposed penalties totaling $74,900.
OSHA said the production company failed to provide safety measures to protect the employees by, among other things, not securing permission to film on the tracks.