‘Rust’ Producers to Pay Reduced $100,000 Penalty in OSHA Settlement (EXCLUSIVE)
The producers of “Rust” have agreed to pay a reduced penalty of $100,000 to resolve the OSHA case that arose from the shooting death of the cinematographer Halyna Hutchins by Alec Baldwin.
The New Mexico Occupational Health and Safety Bureau issued a $136,793 penalty last April, the highest allowed by law. Rust Movie Productions was scheduled to challenge the citation at a state commission hearing in June.
Under the settlement, the state agency agreed to the reduced penalty and dropped its claim that the production committed a “willful” violation of safety rules. A “willful” citation is the most severe under OSHA’s enforcement system.
The production will instead accept a “serious” citation, a lower level violation. The producers are also not required to admit civil liability.
The settlement comes a day after Baldwin pleaded not guilty to involuntary manslaughter in Hutchins’ death. Baldwin faces up to 18 months in prison if convicted. Hannah Gutierrez Reed, the film’s armorer, is also expected to plead not guilty to the same charge on Friday.
“Rust” is looking to restart production, with Baldwin still in the lead role, at a film ranch in Montana this spring. Director Joel Souza, who was injured in the shooting, will reteam with the original cast to complete the film, which they have said is a tribute to Hutchins’ memory.
Though there remains pending civil litigation, the OSHA settlement moves the production a step closer to resolving the legal issues pertaining to Hutchins’ death.
“We are pleased to have entered into an agreement with OHSB, subject to approval, which downgrades the citation and reduces penalties,” said Melina Spadone, attorney for Rust Movie Productions, in a statement. “Our top priority has always been resuming production and completing this film so we can honor the life and work of Halyna Hutchins. Settling this case rather than litigating is how we can best move forward to achieve that goal.”
The OSHA citation alleged that the production failed to ensure compliance with industry safety standards, and demonstrated “plain indifference to the safety of employees.” The agency noted that there were two accidental discharges involving blank ammunition five days before Hutchins’ death, and alleged that the producers failed to take proper steps to investigate.
The citation also alleged that Gutierrez Reed was not given enough time to ensure that there were no live rounds on the set, and that she was not given full authority to decide how much training was required. The agency also alleged that the industry safety bulletins were not attached to call sheets, as required, and that not enough safety meetings were held.
The producers’ attorneys countered that there was no willful failure to adhere to industry rules. The production argued that the misfires involving blank rounds were appropriately addressed, that Gutierrez Reed was given enough time to do her job, that all actors received firearms training and that a safety meeting was held on the morning of Hutchins’ death.
The producers also reached a civil settlement with Hutchins’ widower, Matthew, who will become an executive producer of the film, in October. That settlement has yet to be finalized.
Several other crew members have filed their own lawsuits alleging physical and emotional damages, and Hutchins’ parents and sister also sued earlier this month. Those suits may be put on hold until the criminal charges are resolved.
Employers typically argue that employee lawsuits arising from a workplace accident should be handled by the state workers’ compensation system. Employees can get around that, however, if the employer committed a “willful” violation that led to the injury.
Reducing the OSHA penalty to a “serious” violation may make it more difficult for the crew members who have sued to avoid being forced into workers comp.
A “willful” violation requires that the employer “knowingly” and “purposely” disregarded safety standards. A “serious” violation requires only that a hazard existed that was likely to cause serious injury or death, but does not require “knowing” or “purposeful” misconduct.
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