In the nearly four months since the deadly shooting on the New Mexico set of Rust that killed cinematographer Halyna Hutchins, multiple lawsuits have been filed. But, until Tuesday, her family had yet to take legal action.
During a press conference at the downtown L.A. office of Panish Shea, which was shared via private live stream for members of the media who could not attend in person, the family’s attorney Brian Panish announced a wrongful death suit has been filed in New Mexico against Alec Baldwin and “others responsible for the safety on set and whose reckless behavior” led to her “senseless and tragic death.” Hutchins, who was 42 at the time of her death, is survived by her husband of 16 years, Matthew Hutchins, and their 9-year-old son. The family retained the firm in November.
The Santa Fe County Sheriff’s Department is still investigating the Oct. 21 incident, during which Alec Baldwin discharged a prop gun that had been improperly loaded with live ammunition killing Hutchins and injuring director Joel Souza. Since then, New Mexico State Sen. Cliff Pirtle (R-Roswell) introduced a bill that would require all crew members who handle firearms to complete a gun safety course; a group of cinematographers publicly called for a ban on all “functional firearms” on productions; and multiple civil suits have been filed, including one from script supervisor Mamie Mitchell who was on set at the time of the shooting and was the first to call 911.
After announcing the suit had been filed, the firm presented a 3-D animated rendering of what they allege led to the shooting, which is embedded below. It included a narrated video showing texts and emails among crew complaining about the safety on set and a clip of Baldwin speaking about the incident in an interview.
Panish alleges at least 15 industry standards were disregarded on set, including that it was unnecessary for Baldwin to use a revolver to lineup the shot, and the armorer was not in the room when the actor received the weapon from the first assistant director.
“Had they been followed, this never would have happened,” said Panish during a Q&A following the video.
“There were many people culpable,” he continued, before adding that Baldwin holds a greater share of liability because he was the one holding the weapon. The other defendants include corporations tied to the production as well as producers Ryan Donnell Smith, Langley Cheney, Nathan Klingher, Ryan Winterstein, Anjul Nigam; supervising unit production manager Ryan Dennett-Smith; line producer Gabrielle Pickle; unit production manager Katherine Walters; armorer Hannah Gutierrez-Reed; props master Sarah Zachry; armorer assistant Seth Kenney; first assistant director David Halls; and executive producers Chris M. B. Sharp, Jennifer Lamb, Emily Salveson.
According to the complaint, which is embedded below, camera operator Lane Luper told Walters on Oct. 16 that there had been three accidental discharges and the set was “super unsafe.”
“The Producers chose not to take the safety complaint by Mr. Luper seriously and brushed the safety concerns under the rug because investigating and addressing these safety concerns would delay production and stretch the production budget,” states the complaint. “On the morning of Ms. Hutchins’s tragic death, October 21, 2021, the safety dangers of the production had reached a crisis point. The local camera crew members were so upset by the producers’ utter disregard for the safety that they protested the safety conditions by going on strike.”
Rust was left with a “skeleton crew,” according to the complaint, when they set up the scene at Bonanza Creek church.
This is what they allege happened leading up to the unintentional discharge that caused Hutchins’ death: “Defendant Armorer Gutierrez-Reed, who was responsible for maintaining the revolver and the ammunition while on set, had left the revolver and ammunition out of the safe she maintained for securing firearms on the set. Defendant Gutierrez-Reed did not verify the revolver or ammunition were safe before the first assistant director, Defendant Halls, took the revolver to Defendant Baldwin. Defendant Halls never verified the revolver was safe before handing it to Defendant Baldwin. Defendant Baldwin accepted the gun from Defendant Halls, rather than the production’s armorer. Defendant Baldwin never verified the gun was safe before operating the gun, nor did he require the armorer or Defendant Halls to demonstrate in his presence that the gun was safe.”
Hutchins’ family is suing for negligent, intentional, willful or reckless misconduct resulting in wrongful death and loss of consortium, and is seeking compensatory and punitive damages in an amount to be determined at trial.
New Mexico-based attorney for the family, Randi McGinn, said they expect the matter to go to trial in the next year and a half because of how quickly the state court system tends to move. She also added, “We’re used to people coming in from out of town to play cowboys.”
Attorneys for Baldwin have not yet responded to a request for comment.
More to come.