There had been bad blood between Justin Sundquist and Jeff Cadiente before they landed plum stunt coordinating assignments within weeks of each other on two CBS reboots from executive producer Peter Lenkov, the network’s most prolific writer-producer. All three men had been involved in a lawsuit stemming from a 2016 accident on Hawaii Five-0 – another CBS reboot Lenkov executive produces – in which Sundquist blamed Cadiente, the show’s stunt coordinator, for a stunt that went terribly wrong. He also accused Lenkov of having turned a “blind eye” to Cadiente’s alleged drug abuse, which Sundquist claimed contributed to the accident that threatened to end his career.
Lawsuits are not uncommon in the stunt business; they’re often filed when deaths or serious injuries occur. But Sundquist’s 2017 suit against the producers of Hawaii Five-0 was unique, setting off a round of stunt coordinator musical chairs on three popular CBS reboots and raising serious questions about potential liabilities producers might face if they rehire a stunt coordinator who’s been publicly accused of negligence and drug abuse.
“If you hire someone who you know has a history of negligence or drug abuse, you bear the responsibility,” defense attorney Harland Braun told Deadline. “That’s just basic tort law. But it all depends on the facts.”
Sundquist recovered from his injuries after multiple surgeries and settled his suit June 25, without any of his allegations ever proven. But as part of the settlement, he was given his dream job of stunt coordinator on MacGyver, a CBS reboot also executive produced by Lenkov.
Six weeks after the settlement, Cadiente also was give a plumb assignment: stunt coordinator on Magnum P.I., another CBS reboot that’s also executive produced by Lenkov. “Happy to announce they let me join the Magnum PI team,” Cadiente tweeted August 9. It was a move that “surprised” and “outraged” more than one source familiar with this story.
Eleven days later, and just a few weeks into his own new job, Sundquist was seriously hurt again – this time in Atlanta while performing a stunt on MacGyver that he also coordinated. And as bad as his injuries were from the accident on Hawaii Five-0, this one was even worse, sustaining a head injury that was so serious part of his skull had to be removed to relieve the pressure on his brain. Hospitalized for weeks, he rehabbed at the renowned Shepherd Center in Atlanta before being flown home to Los Angeles on September 29 in a special medical airplane.
Sundquist hadn’t seen his son Ryder since the day before the accident and, after arriving at LAX, was taken straight to his middle school football game, where he saw him catch a 60-yard touchdown pass. It was a joyous reunion. “[Justin is] walking and talking, and the doctors say he’s recovering fast, but it’s still going to take time for him to get 100% back,” said a friend of the family.
That same day, Cadiente still was coordinating Magnum P.I.’s stunts when he tweeted: “You’re gonna love #MagnumPI…the writing, the actors, the scenery, the cars…and of course, the action!”
But not long after Deadline began making inquiries about this merry-go-round of stunt coordinating jobs on Lenkov’s CBS reboots, Cadiente was replaced as the show’s stunt coordinator. Asked whether Cadiente was still the stunt coordinator on Magnum P.I., a CBS spokesperson told Deadline that “He was but I do not know the exact date of hire. He is not currently the stunt coordinator for Magnum.” Cadiente did not respond to requests for comment.
In his bombshell 2017 lawsuit, Sundquist alleged that “for many seasons of Hawaii Five-0,” Cadiente had “enticed certain stunt performers with a quid pro quo: if they supplied him with pills, he supplied them with work.” He also alleged that the show’s producers “knew or should have known” about it but “failed and refused to conduct an appropriate investigation.”
The suit claimed that in early 2015, “An email was sent to various Hawaii Five-0 executives notifying them of the safety concerns this quid pro quo situation, and the continued use and abuse of controlled substances by this key personnel, posed. Defendants, and each of them, again failed to adequately address the problem, and willfully and knowingly continued to allow the dangerous condition – a key safety personnel working under the influence to coordinate stunts with a high potential for danger – to exist on set.”
Deadline could not independently verify the existence of such an email, and Sundquist’s former attorney, David deRubertis, did not return numerous calls. Deadline also reached out to Sundquist’s wife Heidi, who joined the suit for “loss of consortium,” but she did not respond to requests for an interview.
The suit also alleged that the defendants conducted a “sham” investigation of drug claims against Cadiente. “At some point, defendants did purport to try to investigate this issue,” the suit says. “However, this ‘investigation’ was a sham” and “allowed the dangerous conduct of having a key safety personnel under the influence coordinate stunts to continue.”
According to the lawsuit, “At least one witness, in the course of the ‘investigation,’ was pressured by a Hawaii Five-0 co-executive producer to lie to the executive producer when asked about the quid pro quo.”
Cadiente was the only individual listed among of the 15 named defendants in the lawsuit – the others were three CBS entities and 11 loan-out companies owned by Lenkov and other producers, co-executive producers, directors, and assistant directors who are all identified in the body of the complaint, who categorically denied all allegations.
In their seven-page answer to the complaint, filed in Los Angeles Superior Court on November 3, 2017, the defendants denied any responsibility for the accident and put the blame on Sundquist, claiming that “any damage or injury suffered by plaintiffs was proximately caused or contributed to by the negligence or fault of plaintiffs, plaintiffs’ agents, representatives and/or employees.” They also claimed that he had “full knowledge of the conditions existing, appreciated the danger thereof, and voluntarily, knowingly, and intelligently assumed said associated risks, and that the risks voluntarily assumed by the plaintiffs were the sole or partial proximate causes of the damages of which plaintiffs now complain.”
Their boilerplate answer to the lawsuit listed 21 affirmative defenses – mostly claiming that the “complaint is barred” for various legal reasons – but did not specifically address the producers’ alleged cover-up of Cadiente’s alleged drug problems.
But there is no dispute that Sundquist, doubling for Hawaii Five-0 star Alex O’Loughlin, was seriously injured on the set in the summer of 2016, when he was struck so hard by a speeding car that it knocked him into the ceiling of a Honolulu parking garage where the scene for the third episode of Season 7 was being filmed.
Court records show the car was driven by actor Tontcho “Tony” Stephanov, who wasn’t a stuntman, and who wasn’t much of an actor, either. He was a real estate agent in Honolulu, and this was his first, last and only known screen role – receiving 18th billing in a small part playing bad guy Armando Sanchez. Sources say he got the job at an audition, as many of the show’s local hires do.
Stephanov, who was not a defendant in the lawsuit, has virtually no presence on the web, and records of the Hawaii Department of Commerce and Public Affairs show that his real estate license is now “inactive” and that he is “unable to practice.” A friend, a fellow realtor, thinks he might have gone back to Bulgaria.
Sundquist’s suit claims that he didn’t even know that the car that hit him would be involved in the action – he thought it would remain stationary throughout his scene. But it didn’t. And when he stepped in front of the car, Stephanov hit the gas, peeling out, the screeching of tires reverberating through the garage, before knocking Sundquist flying.
“Mr. Sundquist was never informed that the car would actually be moving during this scene – let alone, at a position and speed that posed a potential danger to Mr. Sundquist,” his suit states. “And Mr. Sundquist and others had no reason to suspect or believe the car would be traveling because previous shots captured the required footage of the car actually in motion.”
Because of that, the suit states: “Other decisions were made that never should have been made on this set. For example … the car should have been driven by a trained stunt person instead of an actor who lacked professional stunt training.”
According to his lawsuit, Sundquist “suffered injuries to his person and nervous system from the impact, necessitating multiple surgeries, among other medical care and treatment.”
OSHA is conducting an investigation of the MacGyver accident. CBS TV Studios told Deadline, “The production team is cooperating with the authorities investigating the accident, and our primary concern at this time is Justin’s health and well-being.”
But there was no OSHA investigation of the accident on Hawaii Five-0 because until last year, Hawaii OSHA only required the reporting of on-the-job accidents that resulted in death or the injury of three or more workers that required hospitalization.