A lawsuit filed against two Sony entities by a “S.W.A.T.” television series actor injured in 2018 while shooting a scene involving a helicopter on the CBS series should be dismissed because neither company was involved in the stunt’s coordination, defense attorneys argue in new court papers.
Kenny Johnson, now 59, brought the lawsuit in July 2020 in Los Angeles Superior Court against Sony Pictures Entertainment Inc., Sony subsidiary Sony Pictures Television Inc., and Topanga Productions Inc., alleging negligence, ultrahazardous activity, and peculiar risk.
Johnson played the character of Officer Dominque Luca and was on the “S.W.A.T.” set on July 18, 2018, to film a scene in which he was to simulate being pulled through the air while hanging onto the landing gear of a helicopter, according to the suit, which alleges the actor was “unreasonably exposed to danger and injury” during filming.
But in court papers filed Wednesday, defense attorneys argue that the Sony entities did not provide the equipment used in the stunt or take part in its design or coordination. The companies also did not have control over the work Johnson performed during the “S.W.A.T.” series, according to the defense attorneys’ court papers.
Topanga Productions paid for Johnson’s workers’ compensation insurance and therefore the part of the plaintiff’s case should be in that arena and not the courts, the defense attorneys further argue in their court papers.
According to the suit, Johnson was healthy and in good physical shape before the incident, but afterward was injured in his “health, strength and activity” and also sustained shock and injury to his nervous system.
But according to the defense attorneys court papers, Johnson’s stunt was not a highly risky activity because while the actor was hanging on a bar during the scene to simulate hanging from the underside of a helicopter, he was actually standing on a 12-inch apple box and was only a few feet in the air over eight-inch pads.
“SPE had no involvement with approving or disapproving, and made no recommendations with respect to, the subject stunt that Plaintiff performed on the set on “S.W.A.T,” the defense attorneys state in their court papers. “SPE did not guaranty or ensure, and was not responsible for, the on-set safety with respect to the production of “S.W.A.T.”
The same point was emphasized in a sworn declaration filed by Adam Moos, a senior vice president for production for SPT, who said Topanga Productions was in charge of safety on the “S.W.A.T.” set.
“Topanga solely provided and implemented the safety programs and affirmatively undertook to provide a safe working environment at plaintiff’s workplace,” Moos said. By contrast, because SPT was not involved with the production of “S.W.A.T.” in any manner, it was not SPT’s responsibility, contractual or otherwise, to address any safety issues…”
Jonathan Boyer, SPE’s director of production safety for Sony Pictures Entertainment, said in a separate declaration that his department does “not oversee” the safety of every stunt on every production.”
Boyer said his department’s role with “S.W.A.T.” and other productions was to be a resource and provide safety recommendations on how to do things as safely as possible.
A hearing on the defense motion to dismiss Johnson’s case is scheduled Oct. 12 before Judge Daniel M. Crowley.
Johnson’s other roles include portraying Detective Curtis Lemansky in “The Shield,” Butch “Burner” Barnes in “Pensacola: Wings of Gold” and Detective Ham Dewey in “Saving Grace.”