Crossfire: Alec Baldwin Countersues Over “Rust” Fatal Shooting

We previously discussed the litigation and criminal investigation surrounding the fatal shooting on the set of “Rust.” Alec Baldwin and others are being sued for negligence in the death of cinematographer, Halyna Hutchins. Now Baldwin has filed a countersuit against the first assistant director, armorer, ammunitions supplier and prop master in Los Angeles Superior Court. The case may turn dramatically on California’s comparative negligence rules.

A lawsuit filed last year by the film’s script supervisor, Mamie Mitchell, accused Baldwin of “playing Russian roulette” by pointing a Colt .45 revolver at Hutchins and accidentally shooting and killing her, according to a search warrant affidavit.

I have previously questioned criminal or negligence claims against Baldwin as an actor in relying on the express assurances that the gun was safe to fire. According to the search warrant affidavit, the first assistant director, Dave Halls, handed the gun to Baldwin while declaring “cold gun,” or a gun with no live rounds.

However, Baldwin was not just an actor on the set. He was one of the producers.

The exchange of lawsuits highlights one aspect of California law. It is a pure comparative negligence state and Baldwin may be fortunate that it is.

In a pure comparative negligence jurisdiction, a plaintiff may recover damages even if he or she is more at fault than the defendant. The award is reduced by whatever the percentage of fault is assigned to the plaintiff.  Other states use a partial or modified comparative fault system where you are barred if you are 50 percent or more at fault in your own accident.  In the traditional contributory negligence states, a plaintiff can be barred for even one percent of fault (absent a finding under “last clear chance” doctrines).

As a producer, it is likely that Baldwin was negligent to some degree in the shoddy precautions and safety conditions on the set. In a contributory or modified comparative negligence jurisdiction, he could be barred. However, even if he were found more at fault than the defendants, Baldwin could still recover damages under California’s pure comparative negligence rule.

The discovery in the case could be interesting given Baldwin’s public statements (while insisting that he could not speak publicly on advice from counsel). This includes denials of ever pointing a gun at another actor, which could lead to challenges based on various movie scenes.

The Hutchins family is not part of this litigation since it reached a settlement with Baldwin and others involved in the production.



37 thoughts on “Crossfire: Alec Baldwin Countersues Over “Rust” Fatal Shooting”

  1. Why would any adult take a weapon from another human without verifying the status of the weapon? I would never trust an unverified weapon. Never.

  2. This is all great and they’ll in the end they will find safer sets….but what they are pushing in circuses. ..will never be safer for society. They glorify pointing the gun in the first instance. And expect real people do that….like in meta. Real people don’t point guns at each other….the wild west didn’t either. Sheriffs took guns. Of ppl coming into town. So here on set it was an accident….but what it glorifies is some macho business that isn’t real or historical. I dont back him off the hook because what he sells is still poison!

  3. A movie prop should never have been used for live firing for recreational target shooting, which is what has been alleged happened with this firearm. You don’t mix personal weapons and props for a movie. You never load live ammo in a firearm on a movie set. Never. Ever. Live ammo is not even supposed to be ON a movie set, to avoid exactly this kind of mixup. These rules are in place because of the people who were accidentally shot or injured over the years of film.

    The ammo blanks were designed to hold up to close up scrutiny in film, so it’s a bit tricky to feel the difference. Because it is so close, no live ammo should have been within 5 miles of that movie set. There is a record of complaints on that set about poor gun safety.

    The responsibility for the firearm lies with the armorer and prop master. A series of assumptions, without checking, led to the assistant director believing it was a cold gun, and telling Alec Baldwin that, who also believed without checking. Actors often fire a gun with blanks into the ground as a final check, because at the end of the day, they’re the one holding the weapon. If a mistake is made, the actor is the one who will shoot someone. There are actors who will not fire towards a camera, crew, or other actor, but instead will slightly aim off a target for that final measure of safety. It should always give someone pause to point any gun, even a verified empty gun, at a human being they don’t plan to shoot.

    The responsibility for running a safe set lies with the producer, Alec Baldwin and director. The complaints about gun safety should have stopped the shoot for a review.

    There is shared responsibility for this tragedy between the armorer, prop master, director, assistant director, and producer. Each person who made an assumption, and didn’t check, shared responsibility. It took a series of catastrophic failure in safety protocol for Alec Baldwin to shoot Halyna Hutchins with what he thought was a cold gun.

    Firearms are serious tools, not toys. This was a series of human errors.

  4. >”It is a pure comparative negligence state .. .”

    Compared negligence can be more or less ‘pure’, I suppose.

    *It was an accident, as everybody knows. They wouldn’t hang Baldwin for an accident .. . even in California.

  5. Since I’m not an attorney, I really can’t bring alot of cred to this discussion table, except that I worked as a PA on a small Indy film 30 years ago. Not that impressive on a resume, but I did learn some about movie making.
    The most important thing to know is/was that every crew member has a specific job that is critical to the filmmaking process. The prop master was in charge of that gun. I know she has said that one of the AD’s didn’t post safety bulletins/signs. AD’s are usually overworked and under-appreciated, ‘though those are not good excuses. But I still contend, for what it’s worth, that Sarah Zachary, the prop master, held the greatest responsibility for that “prop” gun.
    The other important rule I learned, and some would say the most important rule: grips eat first!
    (I was Craft Services too)

    1. It doesn’t matter on paper who was responsible for the prop because anyone who has ever held a firearm knows they are responsible for making sure to know whether the gun was loaded and not to point it at anyone without checking the chamber first. The curious question I’ve not heard answered is why there was live ammunition anywhere near that set.

        1. Cindy, that would be applicable if Baldwin was a junior actor who hadn’t been in many films with guns, but he is a veteran of the industry.

          One interesting thing, if I remember correctly, the shooting occurred when they were setting up, which begs the question why he was given a live gun in the first place, surely a plastic replica would have sufficed to get into the swing of things before the actual shoot.

          Then, even if he were to use the live gun, why would he have any rounds in the revolver prior to the shot.

          Thirdly, why was he handed the weapon by someone not directly responsible for it, there are processes that are required for an actor to be handed a tool of death, which involve the actor being shown exactly what rounds the gun is loaded with. This alone would have prevented the “accident”.

          Finally, why didn’t Baldwin bring up these failures in firearm safety? This is a topic he is vocal in supporting, particularly nationwide against people who have not demonstrated ineptitude in the field, given he preaches it, it would behoove him to practice it. Furthermore, it is his duty as a director and senior most official of the company at the site to be responsible for the safety of his staff, part of which includes implementing safety protocols and insuring that they are followed. If the accident were to have occurred in my part of the world, this last fact alone would have had him before the courts on manslaughter, in an open and shut case. That someone died in his workplace due to inadequate safety.
          Him doing it would just be the icing on the cake.

          1. Aussie Bob….I appreciate your comment. As I said earlier, I am not an attorney, and I don’t know all the facts….I just know, like most of us, how things are supposed to work on a movie set. Diectors and producers are reaponsible, yes, but that’s why they hire, and depend on, competent (hopefully) prop masters, armorers.
            I am an average citizen with average intelligence and am speaking from the view point of a potential juror. It would take alot of testimony to convince me that Baldwin was in charge of the integrity of that prop gun. Being married to a trial attorney for 50 years, I know that jurors take their job seriously and usually come to fair conclusions based on facts presented to them…with some facts not known to the public. And actually, I would love to sit in the jury box if this case ever went to trial. But I’d probably get struck during voir dire if they asked my opinion of Baldwin. I just love him, as an actor.

  6. If Americans can send people to space, invented the internet and microchips – why can’t anyone invent a fake gun that looks real in movies? This is a multi-billion dollar industry and why are they using real guns?

  7. Strange how responsibility makes friends into enemies, while priveledge and entitlement protects Baldwin.
    If this were a terrible accident between two middle class suburbanites an arrest would have been assured.
    Especially after Mr Baldwin’s public statements.

  8. Alec Baldwin still violated the most basic rule in handling firearms. Never accept that a weapon is safe unless you inspect it yourself. An “unloaded” weapon is highly deadly, even in wartime. As a producer and actor who handled the weapon he should have made himself aware of what was real ammunition and what were “blanks”. He should have never have pointed the weapon at anyone unless he intended to shoot them. Movie “magic” and viewing angles could have given the same result without pointing the weapon at anyone. The bullet goes where the weapon was aimed. As far as I know there are no handguns which fire bullets that do not go in a straight line (allowing for bullet drop). And lastly he was the last person who could have saved the day from tragedy and he failed his charge. Also, like many others, still waiting for the negligent homicide charge. A Black, Hispanic or White kid on the street would already be serving time for such an act. Maybe it’s not Critical Race Theory after all. Maybe we should talk about Critical Elite Theory. That seems more pervasive and real.

    1. Also, never wield a scalpel, a gun, at anyone who you do not elect to abort in a plausibly progressive, probably terminal, state of risk.

    2. Never aim a gun at anything or anyone that you do not want to kill/shoot. The empty gun is the most dangerous as it kills more than the loaded. My first lessons from my father at age eight with my christmas 22cal in the hills of West Virginia. Always followed it, and to this day I always check my own personal weapons before working on them. Guns kill, people don’t. One can never be too careful.

    3. Additionally, he admitted he’s had extensive firearms training across several films & many years, thus, he should bear responsibility accordingly.

    1. I don’t remember hearing who the gun was registered to. Can guns be registered to corporations? I think someone’s name had to be on the registration.

        1. Thanks Young, isn’t gun registration determined by the individual states? I know the federal government can’t demand registration, but I thought some states had some sort of handgun registration.

          1. Yes, it is determined by States. California is one such. If the props were kept in California they might be registered there.

            1. Thanks. When I first commented I assumed the prop was registered in California but later I realized the filming occurred in New Mexico.

    1. ….me too, but with his rapidly diminishing popularity, Merrick may actually hold The Donald accountable. Maybe.

      1. Congress may hold Garland accountable – maybe.

        Garland is the worst AG that I can recall every having – he is far worse than Holder who was a hack.

        The country dodged a bullet when his SCOTUS nomination withered.

        You rant about holding Trump accountable – FOR WHAT ?

        You talk about Trump losing dozens of election lawsuits – how well have the lawsuits against Trump gone ?

        Did Comey find anything. Mueller ?
        Trump has been investigated by multiple DA’s the FBI, DOJ, the press, multiple private lawsuits.

        And you have NOTHING to show.

        So far what we have learned is the Collusion delusion was a hoax,
        That Trump was unfaithful to Melania, that he likes spanking.
        That he settled with a small number of disgruntled Trump U alumni, and that the Lawyers got all the money.

        What MIGHT we learn from the outstanding legal conflicts ?

        That Trump misstated the value of his properties on some documents.
        The value of assets has ZERO bearing on taxes.
        Responsibility for establishing the value of a property for loans rests with the lender – as every single person who has ever gotten a mortgage knows. Regardless, you can not defraud someone by over mortgaging a property – unless you go bankrupt. Even defaulting on a mortgage would allow the lender to sue for any losses not recovered by the sale of the property.

        Basically you have nothing – except a clearly corrupt prosecutor and judge that will with near certainty be brought to heal soon enough.

        With respect to this nonsense at MAL.

        The spat between Trump and NARA is entirely a civil matter, you can beleive whatever you want regarding presidential records – you still can not “get Trump”. The caselaw losely favors Trump – while Courts have inconsistently granted current executives access to prior executives records,
        that has been universally done through court orders decided on the merits of each claim, with a presumption that the prior executive owns their own records.
        Regardless, the entire issue is stupid and the outcome irrelevant

        The “classified documents” claim at least has some possibility of resulting in meaningful sanctions.
        But that is a huge reach.

        Lets assume Garlands “Best Case”.
        The documents are marked classified. They are NOT collusion delusion related.

        You STILL have to prove they ARE classified.
        For them to STILL be classified
        They must Either have been moved to MAL after Trump was no longer president.
        Or while Trump was president AND MAL was a SCIF.

        If the president moved or had moved classified documents from a secure fascility to an insecure one while president – they are declassified. Even the NYT did an article on this several years ago.

        So we have to presume that portions of MAL were a SCIF.
        That raises lots of other problems.

        If portions were a SCIF then those documents in those locations are presumptively secure.
        They do not magically become insecure on Jan 21, 2021.

        But lets assume they do – If Trump moved the documents to MAL while president
        so that he would have access to them when you was no longer president.
        They are declassified.
        This is no different from Trump making them public or giving them to someone without a clearance.

        You can argue that Trump did not intend to declassify them – just make them available to himself as ex president
        and that therefore they are still classified.
        That is arguable – but it is also not a crime. Portions of MAL remain a SCIF, regardless, it is secure,
        and ex presidents have unlimited access to classified material.

        Every single direction you go you either end up with Trump having legitimate access to the documents at MAL as ex president or with the documents being declassified.

        What you do NOT have is what you had with Clinton.

        The deliberate removal of classified documents from secure fascilities by a person without the authority to do so.
        The deliberate transmission of still classified documents to those with no legitimate access to them via the insecure internet (and fax)
        and recklessly making thousands of classified documents available on the internet.

        Merely backing up Clinton’s email to Huma Abedin’s laptop which Anythony Weiner was sending Dick pics from is 10,000 times more serious than a president transfering classified documents to a secure fascility in has home – a gated community on a private island with 24×7 secret service in a locked closet that eitehr still is or was at one time a SCIF. For his own access as ex president with an unrestricted secutiry clearance.

        I would further note that I did not manufacture the laws and processes that make Trump’s access to these legal and Clinton’s a crime.
        The constitution does, and Obama’s EO does.

        The rule of law requires following the law as it is.

        1. John: “Garland is the worst AG that I can recall every having – he is far worse than Holder who was a hack.”
          AG Palmer may have been worse but Garland is trying for worst. He should never hold any office of trust, whether private, corporate, or government. If the mafia took over the government we could hardly be worse off and quite likely better.

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