Family of Slain ‘Rust’ Cinematographer Files Wrongful Death Lawsuit
The family of Halyna Hutchins, whom Alec Baldwin allegedly fatally shot on the set of Rust, has filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Baldwin and others involved in the film whom they believe played a role in the cinematographer’s death.
While several lawsuits have already been filed around the October 2021 shooting, and a criminal investigation is ongoing, this is the first legal action from Hutchins’ family. The lawsuit was filed in New Mexico, where the incident took place, and was announced at a press conference in Los Angeles, where the family’s lawyer, Brian Panish, claimed the evidence against Baldwin and others was “overwhelming.”
Along with Baldwin, the wrongful death suit names Rust producer Ryan Donnell Smith as a defendant, as well as several others, including rookie armorer Hannah Gutierrez-Reed, assistant director Dave Halls, prop master Sarah Zachary, and “armorer mentor” Seth Kenney. Reps for Baldwin and Smith did not immediately return requests for comment.
“Halyna Hutchins deserved to live,” the lawsuit reads, “and the Defendants had the power to prevent her death if they had only held sacrosanct their duty to protect the safety of every individual on a set where firearms were present instead of cutting corners on safety procedures where human lives were at stake, rushing to stay on schedule and ignoring numerous complaints of safety violations.”
In the suit, lawyers for Hutchins’ family claim that Baldwin, the producers, and the production companies backing Rust “breached the most basic rules of firearm use on a film production.” These include always treating a gun as if it’s loaded, never placing a finger on the trigger unless the operator is ready to shoot, always keeping the gun unloaded unless it’s necessary for a scene, and then only letting a qualified weapons master or armorer load the gun.
While Rust was a Western film that “involved extensive use of firearms,” the suit alleges that not only was rookie armorer Guttierez-Reed unqualified for the job but that Baldwin and the other producers ignored her “concerns that performing the dual roles of armorer and assistant prop master would result in lapses in basic firearm safety.” Additionally, the suit claims that, prior to Hutchins’ death, Baldwin and others “ignored actual unintentional firearm discharges” on the Rust set, and neither replaced Gutierrez-Reed nor mandated additional safety procedures “despite multiple written complaints about the danger.”
The suit goes on to note another major rule of firearm usage on film sets is to make sure there’s never live ammunition around. Yet, the suit claims, the live bullet that killed Hutchins made its way onto the Rust set and into the gun Baldwin was using because the film failed to “follow industry-standard safety protocols and perform basic firearm safety checks.”
Additionally, the suit argues that Baldwin should have never been holding “a real revolver, let alone a revolver loaded with any ammunition at all,” at the moment Hutchins was killed. The incident occurred not while filming a scene, but while Baldwin, Hutchins, and other crew members were doing a “line up” of a scene to “confirm the positioning, frame, and focus of the camera for a close-up shot” of Baldwin’s hand and the gun he was holding.
“The scene in question,” the suit adds, “did not even call for the revolver held by Defendant Baldwin to be fired.” It later claims that neither Gutierrez-Reed nor Halls (the assistant director) verified the revolver or ammunition were safe before handing it to Baldwin. It also suggests Baldwin improperly accepted the gun from Halls instead of the armorer, and that Baldwin “never verified the gun was safe before operating the gun, nor did he require the armorer or [Halls] to demonstrate in his presence that the gun was safe.”
The lawsuit also ties the allegedly lax safety protocols on the Rust set to the production’s “aggressive cost-cutting practices… that jeopardized and endangered the safety of the cast and crew of Rust.” Along with hiring crew and staff that were allegedly “unqualified and inexperienced” to oversee on-set safety, the suit claims that the Rust producers chose to use “real, live firearms” as a cost-cutting expense over using a combination of CGI effects and prop guns. Despite several on-set incidents and complaints about safety, the suit claims that these concerns were ignored, leading the local camera crew to walk off the film set in protest the morning Hutchins was shot.
With the wrongful death suit, Hutchins’ family is seeking compensatory and punitive damages. A figure, however, was not named, and Hutchins’ family asked that an amount be determined at trial.