The grieving family of Midnight Rider camera assistant Sarah Jones isn’t letting distributor Open Road Films off easy. Lawyers for Jones’ parents, who filed a May 21 wrongful death suit against Open Road along with director Randall Miller, producers Jody Savin and Jay Sedrish, and more than a dozen other defendants for their daughter’s on-set death, responded this week to the company’s claim that it has “no causal connection” to the February 20 train tragedy. “Open Road retained responsibility for ensuring that Midnight Rider was filmed safely and legally, and its failure to live up to this responsibility caused Sarah’s death,” said the September 9 filing in Georgia state court. (Read it here.)
Delaware-based Open Road Films argued in an August motion to dismiss that they don’t fall under the Georgia court’s jurisdiction. The Jones’ response outlines numerous precedents setting up the company’s transactional business dealings in the state, particularly with the Film Allman, LLC. production entity producers set up in Georgia for the film. “Because Open Road is subject to personal jurisdiction and the Complaint states a claim for which relief may be granted, Plaintiffs request that this Court deny Open Road’s motion to dismiss,” said the response. “Sarah was killed as a direct result of the filming and production of Midnight Rider, and therefore, Plaintiff’s wrongful-death claims are directly connected and intertwined with Open Road’s business in Georgia,” says the 17-page document.
The family also claims that in making director Miller’s involvement in the film a mandatory term of their distribution agreement, Open Road “essentially insisted upon the circumstances that ultimately caused Sarah’s death.” In a statement issued in May, Open Road said, “This event was a horrible tragedy, and our deepest condolences go out to the Jones family, the crew members and others who have suffered. Open Road Films was not involved in the production in any way at any time, and we have been named in this suit without justification.”
Jones was killed and several other crew members injured when a freight train collided with equipment and a hospital bed that had been set on train tracks on the Doctortown trestle overlooking Georgia’s Altamaha River. Miller, Savin, and Sedrish have all pleaded not guilty to charges of criminal trespassing and involuntary manslaughter.