'Midnight Rider': Who Will Pay the Bills?

5:00 AM PST 05/08/2014 by Jonathan Handel
Courtesy of Wayne County Sheriff's Office

As the lawsuits get filed, insurance brokers and completion bond experts are trying to figure out who will be on the hook if the low-budget film is never made.

This story first appeared in the May 16 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. 

The Midnight Rider lawsuits have started. On April 28, musician Gregg Allman sued producers of the suspended biopic, arguing that rights to his story lapsed because producers failed to start principal photography by Feb. 28. According to the suit, the Feb. 20 Georgia train accident that killed crewmember Sarah Jones and injured others occurred during preproduction. 

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In the wake of the suit, as well as star William Hurt withdrawing, insurance brokers and completion bond experts are trying to figure out who will be on the hook if the low-budget film is never made. "It's a morass," one lawyer tells THR. Jones' estate can be expected to bring a wrongful death suit against the production entity, director-producer Randall Miller, his company and perhaps even the railroad. Says a source, "There are grieving and angry people, and they're going after whomever they can go after." 

The big question is who has insurance, will it pay and how much? Typically, productions buy a package that includes workers comp, general liability, equipment coverage, cast insurance and more. But policies have dollar limits, and there might be exclusions for gross negligence or recklessness, or even for shooting near tracks without a permit, meaning the insurance company "has a huge out," says a veteran broker.

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Then there are the financiers, whose expenditures become a loss if the project doesn't restart. A source says he believes there was no completion bond, which could leave backers no recourse but to sue the producer. It all may come down to lawyers negotiating settlements. Says the broker, "It's a mess." 

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