With great teamwork, our firm recently helped establish groundbreaking precedent in California for the reality television industry in its media production work aboard vessels on U.S. navigable waters.
Earlier this month, the California Court of Appeal upheld the decision of the Los Angeles Superior Court absolving our client, a television production company, from any liability to a Jones Act seaman who was gravely injured on a commercial fishing vessel in the Gulf of Mexico and whose rescue was featured on the reality show Big Fish Texas that aired on the National Geographic Network. The lengthy and carefully reasoned opinion is entitled McHenry v. Asylum Entertainment Delaware LLC, 2020 Cal. App. LEXIS 203 (2020), and can be downloaded here. In brief, the California courts found that television producers who film reality television shows aboard vessels and do not control the day-to-day employment duties of Jones Act seamen who are the subject of the show, do not have a duty to rescue those seamen. That duty is vested in the captain and Jones Act employer of the seamen as a matter of federal maritime law. The Courts disposed of the dual employer, borrowed servant theories as applied to the film production context aboard vessels.
Our production industry clients should be mindful of this decision when drafting their production contracts, and any litigation resulting from similar situations. Don’t hesitate to contact us if we can help you navigate these issues.
-Terry Cox and Mark Tepper