'Midnight Rider': Gregg Allman, Michael Lehman and Open Road Films Dismissed From Lawsuit

Randy Thompson Photography; Bobby LaBonge

Sarah Jones' family drops lawsuit against three defendants

Lawyers for Sarah Jones' family are dropping Gregg Allman, executive producer Michael Lehman and Midnight Rider's distributor Open Road Films from the civil lawsuit stemming from Jones' on-set death.

Jones was the 27-year-old camera assistant who was killed shooting a scene on live train tracks in Georgia on Feb. 20 during the filming of the Gregg Allman biopic.

The Jones' attorney, Jeff Harris of Harris Penn Lowry, announced Thursday that the three men would be dismissed as defendants from a wide-reaching civil suit. The news comes two days after a procedural hearing in Savannah, Ga., in which Chatham County Judge Gregory Sapp postponed the motions hearing to Nov. 13.

"This firm was hired by Richard and Elizabeth Jones to find out exactly what happened to their daughter, what decisions were made that led to that fateful day and to determine, and ultimately hold accountable, those who were involved,” Harris wrote in a statement. “After reviewing the many thousands of pages of documents, and other information we have obtained through the legal discovery process, it is clear that Mr. Allman and Mr. Lehman had no involvement in any of the decisions that resulted in Sarah’s death. Our investigation has also shown that, in this case, Open Road Films was not directly involved in the poor decisions that led to this horrific event and the tragic loss of Sarah’s life. As a result, we are dismissing all claims against the three parties.”

Open Road has long maintained that they were the distributors for a film that was never made, so they could not be held liable for Jones' death. Allman settled his own lawsuit with the filmmakers in May. He had originally sued to revoke his life rights from the project because the project has missed deadlines and become involved with the tragedy. The details of the settlement have remained confidential. 

The civil suit against the other defendants remains active. Currently, the family is suing the following: the film producers and director Randall Miller and his production company, Unclaimed Freight; the Film Allman banner set up by Miller and his wife, writer-producer Jody Savin; executive producers Jay Sedrish, first assistant director Hillary Schwartz, location manager Charles T. Baxter, director of photography Mike Ozier and Meddin Studios, which provided production and filming equipment and personnel.

Miller, Savin, Sedrish and Schwartz have been criminally charged with involuntary manslaughter and criminal trespass.

Also named as defendants are Rayonier Performance Fibers, the paper company that owns the land surrounding the train tracks where Jones was killed. CSX Transportation, which operates the railroad tracks, is also named as a defendant. CSX has fired back saying it twice denied permits to film on the train tracks in writing. The train company also maintains that Jones knew of the danger she faced in working on the live train tracks.

In explaining the multiple defendants named in the civil lawsuit, Harris wrote, “In the days and months following the accident, the Jones family was unable to access most of the evidence in this case because of legal protections in place as a part of the pending federal and state investigations into occupational safety, railway safety and potential criminal and civil liability. At the same time, various parties involved made numerous conflicting and contradictory public statements about the sequence of events leading to the tragedy. The comprehensive civil lawsuit filed by the Jones family, naming multiple defendants, allowed access to extensive and voluminous evidence. We very much appreciate Mr. Allman’s and Mr. Lehman’s full cooperation during discovery and are pleased we’ve reached a place of closure with them as well as Open Road. The investigation into the actions and involvement of the remaining defendants is ongoing.”

“The legal process is working and questions are being answered,” said Richard Jones on behalf of the Jones family. “During a very difficult and trying time for our family, Gregg Allman and Michael Lehman demonstrated their genuine sorrow over the loss of our daughter and their willingness to work with us in the future to ensure safe film sets for all. For that, we are grateful.”

Email: Soo.Youn@THR.com
Twitter: @lalasoo

Oct. 30, 11:50 am Updated with background and context throughout.

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