How much responsibility does a movie studio have over what happens off the set? While a film studio can be held responsible for the actions of individuals on the set, can a studio be responsible for damages by simply creating a controversial film, for filming on location in a dangerous area, or for contributing to a potentially dangerous situation off the set?
The widow of the man killed by rapper Suge Knight has filed a lawsuit against Universal Studios alleging that the studio’s negligence in failing to provide adequate security led to the wrongful death of her husband.
Universal Studios recently released a movie called Straight Outta Compton, based on the story of the legendary Compton rap group, N.W.A., and founding members Suge Knight, Dr. Dre, and Ice Cube. In the early 1990s, the rappers formed Death Row Records, an incredibly successful and powerful hip-hip music label. Eventually, Suge Knight and Dr. Dre had a violent falling out, and tensions between both men have been explosive for decades.
When Universal began producing Straight Outta Compton, Dr. Dre and Ice Cube were hired on as consultants. Both men told Universal that Suge Knight was dangerous, and the widow alleges that all parties should have known that creating a movie based on Knight would lead to a confrontation, especially because Knight was upset about his portrayal in the film as a violent individual.
On January 29, 2015, Knight visited the set looking to confront Dr. Dre and representatives of Universal about his role in the film and the amount of money he was receiving from the film. After being thrown off the set, Knight found and confronted Cle “Bone” Sloan, another member of the N.W.A., and Terry Carter, described to have been a community liaison of sorts. Carter allegedly tried to calm Knight and resolve the confrontation when Knight rammed his pickup truck into Carter and Sloan, injuring Sloan and killing Carter. Knight has insisted that he was acting in self-defense.
Carter’s widow alleges that Universal created a tense situation by bringing together Knight’s propensity for violence, the dangerous nature of the neighborhood, and the longstanding feud between Knight and the other N.W.A. consultants. Therefore, she claims Universal is responsible for Knight’s violence. Carter’s widow claims that if Universal had hired additional security, Knight would not have been allowed on the set, and there may have been security present where Carter was killed.
Film studios or production companies have a responsibility to make sure that their filming does not endanger the people or property around the filming location. Usually, this is done through the permitting process, hiring security or by taking precautions to prevent damage surrounding areas.
When filming does injure property or people, the film studio could be held responsible. However, in this case, the actions of a third party, outside of the filming location, brought about the death of one person and the injury of another. Whether or not the studio can be held responsible under these facts is a matter for the judge or a jury.
The attorneys at Pierce Law Group LLP help producers, directors, and entertainment companies navigate complicated legal issues. If your film project resulted in an injury on or off set, or you need advice or representation about an issue on your film, speak with an experienced entertainment lawyer. Pierce Law Group LLP can help you negotiate tricky situations, and will assist you in making sure that your rights are protected.
For a free initial consultation, contact Pierce Law Group LLP today by calling (310) 274-9191.