Injured 'Green Lantern' Worker Wins Round in Warner Bros. Lawsuit (Exclusive)

24 BIZ Green Lantern
Warner Bros. Pictures/©DC Comics

Warner Bros.' film was to have launched a line of big-budget DC Comics films. But unlike Marvel, "Lantern" lacked a clear vision and became bogged down in special effects.

There's more than one reason why Warner Bros. might wish to disown Green Lantern, last summer's superhero flop that cost $200 million and grossed just $218.9 million worldwide. One is the injuries suffered by special effects worker John Franco. On Thursday, a Los Angeles Superior Court judge rejected the studio's attempt to escape Franco's negligence lawsuit.

When Franco, an independent contractor specializing in pyrotechnics, filed the case in April 2011, his lawsuit was short on specifics about what exactly had gone wrong on the Green Lantern set.

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Here's what is now said to have happened:

On the Louisiana set in July 2010, director Martin Campbell is said to have decided to add something that wasn't in the script -- a van roll-over gag.

The crew decided to do a test run by having a multiple-ton truck roll over. Afterward, the truck allegedly wasn't in tip-top shape, with broken parts. Nevertheless, within an hour -- allegedly in the interest of expediency -- the crew used the same truck to roll over again. This time, debris went flying and Franco got hit, allegedly suffering numerous broken bones and "lifelong-affecting injuries."

In the lawsuit that followed, one of the threshold questions has been whether Warner Bros. maintained control over the production and had the authority to supervise the work.

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In attempting to dismiss the lawsuit, the studio claimed it did not “produce, oversee, or control any aspect of the Green Lantern Production.”

Should responsibility have fallen to Big Moose LLC, the production company behind the film?

"There is a reason they call it the 'movie business' -- it’s all about illusion," answered Daniel Balaban, the attorney for Franco. "Warner Bros. wants this court to believe that Warner Bros.' investment into making the Green Lantern movie was the mere writing of a check -- with no oversight or say about how that money was being used and how the movie was being made. Now, that’s illusion."

Franco contended that the studio and not Big Moose had hired Campbell, that it had other agents on the set including vp production safety Jeff Egan and that the DGA guild agreement confirmed that Warners had the final "decision in all business and creative matters" in regard to the production of the movie.

Warners maintained it didn't have direct control over the production set, but if it did owe a duty to Franco, the studio believed it should be deemed to be Franco's employer. If so, the studio would have civil immunity, and the plaintiff could only recover under California's Workers' Compensation Act. Plus, Warners argued that Franco assumed the risk of getting hit by a rear axle of a van since he worked in the special effects industry.

On Thursday, the judge sided with Franco in a short written order that denied the studio's summary-judgment motion without analysis.

Presumably, if the case isn't settled and gets to trial, a jury will decide whether Warner Bros. retained control of the premises and whether Franco was the studio's employee, not to mention the arguably bigger question of whether the injury was foreseeable. The plaintiff is arguing that Egan perceived danger but was lackadaisical in taking actions to rectify the "dangerous conditions throughout the filming of Green Lantern."

The case is still in the preliminary phase, so it bears emphasis that nothing has been proved yet and that Warners and Big Moose surely will offer vigorous defenses disputing the plaintiff's theories on causation.

Warners wasn't empty-handed from Thursday's decision, either. The judge granted the studio's motion to deny punitive damages, which means Franco hasn't been able to show the defendants acted willfully or recklessly in the mishap.

Warners declined to comment on the judge's decision.


Twitter: @eriqgardner