Rust Producers Agree to $100k OSHA Settlement After Fatal Shooting
By LawCommentary | Posted on March 17, 2023
Alec Baldwin’s criminal prosecution is not the only fallout from the fatal shooting that occurred on the New Mexico set of the upcoming film Rust. The film’s producers face OSHA citations for rampant safety violations that culminated in the fatal accident. The producers recently reached a settlement with the state agency in charge, agreeing to pay $100,000 in fines without admitting guilt.
As reported by Variety, New Mexico’s Occupational Health and Safety Bureau (OHSB) issued a $136,793 penalty against Rust Movie Productions last April, the maximum fine allowed by statute. The citations stem from an incident in which actor and producer Alec Baldwin fatally shot cinematographer Halyna Hutchins during filming. Baldwin claims he was handed a prop gun and was unaware that there were live rounds contained within when he allegedly pointed at Ms. Hutchins and fired. The actor has since been charged with involuntary manslaughter, along with the film’s armorer, who was responsible for firearm safety and training.
According to OHSB’s citation, the Rust set was rife with safety violations. The production failed to follow firearm safety guidelines, which mandated regular safety meetings and prohibited the use of live ammunition on set or “pointing a firearm at anyone” without first consulting the prop master and/or armorer. According to the citation, by “failing to follow these practices, an avoidable loss of life occurred.”
Rust Movie Productions agreed to settle the OSHA charges for a reduced fine of $100,000. Per the settlement, the production did not admit any wrongdoing, and the agency reduced the charge from a “willful” violation to a “serious” violation.
Withholding admission of wrongdoing is important for the production company, which is open to liability for the death of the film’s cinematographer. A citation is strong evidence of negligence or more severe wrongdoing in subsequent civil claims, especially if the target admits to the charges.
Employers hit with OSHA violations often demand that any settlement explicitly state the agreement is not an admission of guilt. OHSB’s settlement with Rust, for example, states not only that the producers “admit neither any alleged facts … characterizations … nor any of the conclusions set forth in the citations,” but also that the “Settlement Agreement shall not be offered, used or admitted in evidence in any proceeding or litigation, whether civil or criminal.”
In this instance, the producers’ caution is warranted. A swarm of civil claims is being thrown around among members of the crew and production team. Alec Baldwin and the producers have been sued by Hutchins’ family for her wrongful death, and several crew members have also sued alleging they suffered post-traumatic stress disorder as a result of the shooting.
Baldwin himself has filed a lawsuit against the armorer and other crewmembers for allegedly handing him a gun loaded with live rounds without his knowledge. His complaint alleges that he “did not know and had no reason to know” that the armorer, assistant director, and prop master had all failed to take appropriate safety precautions before handing him the purported prop weapon.