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Judge Rejects ‘Midnight Rider’ Director’s Suit Against Insurance Company

Variety logo Variety 5/23/2017 Gene Maddaus
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A federal judge on Tuesday dismissed a lawsuit arising from the 2014 train fatality on the set of “Midnight Rider,” finding that insurer New York Marine is not obliged to continue defending the film’s producers after paying out its $5 million coverage limit.

The producers — the husband-and-wife team of Randall Miller and Jody Savin — filed suit in 2015 through their company Film Allman, alleging that the insurer had violated their policies and left them exposed to further litigation. The suit also provided Miller a platform to seek a measure of redemption, as his attorneys alleged that he had been wrongfully singled out for blame in the death of camera assistant Sarah Jones.

Judge Otis Wright had already dismissed four causes of action in the suit, and on Tuesday he threw out the remaining five causes. Wright also rejected the producers’ motion for reconsideration of the earlier ruling, calling it “a thinly-veiled attempt to prolong this litigation.”

The “Midnight Rider” crew was filming on a train bridge in Jesup, Georgia, without permission of the train operator when the crash occurred. Jones was killed and eight others were injured. Miller, the film’s director, pleaded guilty to involuntary manslaughter and criminal trespass, and served a year in jail.

New York Marine took the lead on defending the Jones’ family’s lawsuit against Film Allman. Ultimately, the insurer agreed to a $6.5 million settlement, with $5 million coming from the insurer and the remaining $1.5 million coming from Rayonier Performance Fibers, a paper products company that owns the land adjacent to the tracks. That settlement exhausted New York Marine’s coverage limit, leaving Miller and Savin exposed to further litigation from the injured crew members.

“The controlling law is clearly on the side of the insurer here,” the judge ruled. “In sum, while Film Allman would have liked for its insurer to extend coverage beyond what Film Allman actually paid for rather than use up the policy limits dispensing with one case, there is no support for this… New York Marine was not obligated to continue defending Film Allman.

As discussed above, the Court finds that New York Marine correctly assessed that its coverage had expired with the settlement of the Jones action.”

Miller’s attorneys asked the court to reconsider its earlier dismissal, arguing that the FBI is investigating whether Miller’s civil rights were violated during his criminal prosecution. Wright dismissed that claim as nothing more than “a rumor.”

“The problem with this argument is that there is no evidence that the FBI investigation has uncovered any new facts or has reached any sort of conclusion that would benefit Film Allman,” the judge wrote. “Indeed, at present, Film Allman offers only meager secondhand knowledge of an ongoing investigation. This is not a valid basis for reconsideration.”

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