'Midnight Rider' Producer Loses Lawsuit Against Insurer

A judge rules that New York Marine didn't breach its contract when it settled with the family of camera assistant Sarah Jones and then refused to provide further coverage.
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'Midnight Rider' director Randall Miller

A California federal judge has dealt a blow to the producer of the abandoned Gregg Allman biopic Midnight Rider, handing a summary judgment victory to New York Marine and General Insurance Company and shrugging off news of an FBI investigation.

Due to a tragic accident on a railway trestle bridge in Georgia on Feb. 20, 2014, killing camera assistant Sarah Jones, production of the film was suspended with director Randall Miller prosecuted amid a flurry of lawsuits. Film Allman, LLC, then sued the insurer and claimed that "New York Marine sabotaged the Film, the very thing that it agreed to insure and protect when it issued the Producers Policy to Film Allman."

Unfortunately for producers, U.S. District Judge Otis Wright ruled in December that criminal acts were properly excluded under the film company's policy.

Now, Wright has followed that decision with a judgment that pretty much wraps up this case except for any appeals.

The judge analyzes a breach of contract claim related to a Commercial General Liability Policy and arguments from the producers that the insurer failed to communicate how a $5 million settlement with Jones' family would exhaust a duty to defend and how the insurer allegedly could have provided a more rigorous defense rather than simply settling.

"In short, Film Allman is dissatisfied with the way New York Marine handled the settlement of Jones and the subsequent denial of continuing coverage," writes the judge. "However, Film Allman’s dissatisfaction does not create a genuine issue of fact as to whether New York Marine breached the CGL Policy. The controlling law is clearly on the side of the insurer here."

Wright concludes that New York Marine had the right to settle the Jones action and protect against the possibility that Jones would prevail and expose it to much larger liability. He also denies the producers' attempt to show how the insurer breached duties under a workers' compensation policy as well.

Film Allman's lawyers recently came forward with word that the FBI was investigating whether Miller was wrongfully prosecuted and incarcerated. They had hoped that this news would form the basis of some reconsideration of the judge's prior ruling about exempted criminal acts.

"The problem with this argument is that there is no evidence that the FBI investigation has uncovered any new facts or has reached any sort of conclusion that would benefit Film Allman," responds Wright. "Indeed, at present, Film Allman offers only meager secondhand knowledge of an ongoing investigation. This is not a valid basis for reconsideration."

Here's the full decision from Judge Wright, who decrees that the film company recover nothing on its claims and that the complaint is dismissed on the merits and with prejudice. The insurer is also awarded costs.

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