Alec Baldwin Is Not Accepting Responsibility:  ‘Someone is ​Responsible … But I Know It’s Not Me’

Alec Baldwin Is Not Accepting Responsibility:  ‘Someone is ​Responsible … But I Know It’s Not Me’

 

Actor Alec Baldwin’s passion for making movies was renewed when given the opportunity to work on the set of “Rust,” a Western film set in the 1880’s.  “This movie has made me love making movies again,” said Baldwin.[i]   Unfortunately, his excitement ended on October 21, 2021, when the actor discharged a live bullet from a prop gun on set during a rehearsal, killing the film’s cinematographer, Halyna Hutchins, and wounding the film’s director, Joel Souza.  The discharged bullet struck Hutchins in the chest, ricocheted through her body, exited, and struck Souza in the shoulder.[ii]  Baldwin claims the assistant director on set, Dave Halls, had retrieved the .45 Long Colt revolver from the film’s armorer, Hannah Gutierrez-Reed, and declared it a “cold gun” – standard industry procedure on a film set for a gun that does not have live rounds.  Relying on Hall’s statement, Baldwin held the gun at the angle Hutchins requested, which placed her in the direct line of fire.  He claims he only cocked the gun and did not pull the trigger, but when he let go of the hammer, the gun fired the fatal shot.[iii]  Baldwin released a statement about the incident expressing shock and sadness over the loss of Hutchins, whom he referred to as a colleague and friend.  [iv]

 

Playing the Blame Game

As yet, investigators have been unable to pinpoint how a live bullet made its way into the prop gun.  According to Gutierrez-Reed, no live ammo is ever kept on set.[v]  No one involved has accepted responsibility for the gun having a live bullet nor any of the chain of events that led to the incident.  Rather, the various parties involved are pointing blame at others:

  • The film’s chief lighting technician lodged negligence claims;
  • The script supervisor blamed Baldwin and the other producers for the shooting;
  • Gutierrez-Reed blamed prop supplier Seth Kenney and his company, PDQ Arm and Prop LLC, alleging Kenney provided the box of dummy rounds which actually contained some live rounds that made their way into the gun; and
  • Hutchins’ family has claimed Baldwin and other producers could have prevented her death with basic gun safety rules while filming which they claim were not followed.[vi]

During an interview, Baldwin insisted he bears no responsibility and feels no guilt for the shooting.  Baldwin went on to state:  “I feel that someone is responsible for what happened, and I can’t say who that is … [b]ut I know it’s not me.  I mean, honest to God, if I felt that I was responsible, I might have killed myself if I thought I was responsible.  And I don’t say that lightly.”[vii]

 

The Finger Has Been Pointed

In February 2022, the family of the cinematographer filed a wrongful death suit against Baldwin and other producers, crew members, and companies.[viii]  The lawsuit states Baldwin and the other defendants “failed to perform industry standard safety checks and follow basic gun safety rules while using real guns to produce the movie … with fatal consequences.”[ix]  It also states “[d]efendants had the power to prevent [Hutchins’] 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.”[x]

After the incident, Baldwin issued a statement conveying his shock and stated: “I’m fully cooperating with the police investigation to address how this tragedy occurred and I am in touch with her husband, offering my support to him and his family.  My heart is broken for her husband, their son, and all who knew and loved Halyna.”[xi]

 

Why Should Baldwin Accept Responsibility?

Baldwin was empathetic but emphatically denied responsibility for any portion of the tragic incident.  He claimed he did not pull the trigger – he only cocked the gun while pointing it; he claimed as an actor he was not allowed to check the safety of guns on set himself; and he deflected blame by saying he was not among the producers who were in charge of hiring.  “I feel that someone is responsible for what happened, and I can’t say who that is but I know it’s not me,” Baldwin said.[xii]  He also noted he did what Hutchins asked him to do when handling the gun.[xiii]

An insurance policy may cover claims or lawsuits filed against Baldwin, as production companies often secure insurance policies to cover loss or injury on film sets.  Regardless, if a lawsuit filed against Baldwin leads to trial, he will want to re-consider his position on accepting responsibility.  As described in Robert Tyson’s book, “Nuclear Verdicts®: Defending Justice for All,” it is imperative for the defense to accept responsibility in every single jury trial.[xiv]  Accepting responsibility works in three important ways:

  • It shows the jury the defense is the most reasonable party in the room. People are more responsive and willing to work with reasonable people. Juries will be more open and responsive to defense counsel’s arguments.
  • It defuses the anger that results in Nuclear Verdicts®. Anger is the number one motivator of runaway jury verdicts, but it is difficult for jurors to be angry with defendants who seem fair and logical, despite attempts from plaintiff’s counsel to make the jury angry about the incident and a defendant’s behavior.
  • It shifts comparable fault to others in ways that are acceptable to juries. Right now, Baldwin is placing 100% of fault on others.  Accepting responsibility, however, does not leave all other parties blameless.  It begs the question, “Who else shares the burden of responsibility in this case?”

In the Rust case, the defense could accept responsibility for Baldwin holding the gun at the angle at which Hutchins instructed; he could accept responsibility for firing the gun; and he could accept responsibility for convening this team of actors and professionals as an investor and producer for the film.  In no instance here is he accepting liability for Hutchins’ death, which Baldwin vehemently denies, but there are things he had responsibility for and for which he is accountable.  Accepting responsibility will make Baldwin the most reasonable person in the room, the person looking for justice for Hutchins’ family.  It also opens the door for the defense to explore who else shared responsibility – and perhaps liability – for a live round making its way into the weapon.  Does the armorer who loaded the gun and handed it to Baldwin share responsibility?  Does the prop supplier whose box of dummy bullets somehow contained a live round share responsibility?  Does the assistant director who declared the gun “cold,” possibly without checking the chamber, share responsibility?  Did the producers, of which Baldwin was one, cut safety corners or deviate from procedure?  There are many factors to explore and numerous lines for comparable fault in this case.  Baldwin’s acceptance of responsibility for the things for which he was accountable allows for that deeper examination to take place.  It allows the jury to approach the case rationally and with common sense.

 

Conclusion

Baldwin considered Hutchins a friend and colleague whom he admired.  He expressed concern over Hutchins’ family and a desire to support to them.  The manner in which he responds to the incident, especially the position he takes with respect to his responsibility for what occurred, will affect the outcome for the family and the outcome of the case filed against him.

Accepting responsibility is vital for defusing jury anger, conveying reasonableness and common sense, and exposing comparable fault.  The defense must accept responsibility for something in every single case to reduce the risk of a nuclear verdict.  If Baldwin enters settlement negotiations and accepts responsibility, he will have a better chance to achieve a reasonable settlement.  If the case proceeds to trial and he accepts responsibility, he will be more likely to avoid a nuclear verdict.  Regardless of how the case is ultimately resolved, accepting responsibility will lead to a fairer and more just outcome for all parties involved.  The jury will respond when they know Baldwin’s feelings for Hutchins were not simply words and his care for her family’s future well-being is born out of accepting responsibility for his role in this unfortunate accident.

 

 

 


[i] Sophie Reardon, Alec Baldwin describes “Rust” shooting in emotional interview: “I let go of the hammer of the gun, and the gun goes off, (Dec. 3, 2021), https://www.cbsnews.com/news/alec-baldwin-interview-rust-movie-set-shooting-interview/#:~:text=Baldwin%20also%20spoke%20about%20how,thought%20we%20were%20onto%20something.%22.

[ii] Gene Maddaus, Halyna Hutchins’ Family Sues Alec Baldwin in ‘Rust’ Shooting (Feb. 15, 2022), https://variety.com/2022/film/news/halyna-hutchins-wrongful-death-lawsuit-1235182354/.

[iii] CNN Com Wire Service, Alec Baldwin says Halyna Hutchins told him to cock the gun before it fired (Mar. 11, 2022), https://www.dailynews.com/2022/03/11/alec-baldwin-says-in-legal-filing-that-halyna-hutchins-told-him-to-cock-the-gun-before-it-fired/.

[iv] Brian Welk, Alec Baldwin Says ‘My Heart is Broken’ After Halyna Hutchins Tragedy on ‘Rust’ Set (Oct. 22, 2021), https://www.thewrap.com/alec-baldwin-halyna-hutchins-statement/.

[v]  Nancy Dillon, ‘Rust’ Assistant Director Admits He ‘Should Have Checked’ Gun Handed to Alec Baldwin, But Didn’t (Oct. 27, 2021), https://www.rollingstone.com/movies/movie-news/alec-baldwin-rust-shooting-assistant-director-didnt-check-gun-1248884/.

[vi]Dave Simpson, ‘Rust’ Producers Fined For Safety ‘Indifference’ In Shooting (Apr. 20, 2022), https://www.law360.com/articles/1485824/-rust-producers-fined-for-safety-indifference-in-shooting?copied=1.

[vii] Tim Stelloh, Five takeaways from Alec Baldwin’s first sit-down interview about fatal ‘Rust’ shooting (Dec. 2, 2021), https://www.nbcnews.com/news/us-news/five-takeaways-alec-baldwins-first-sit-interview-fatal-rust-shooting-rcna7483.

[viii] Anousha Sakoui and Meg James, Family of ‘Rust’ cinematographer shot by Alec Baldwin files wrongful-death lawsuit (Feb. 15, 2022), https://www.latimes.com/entertainment-arts/business/story/2022-02-15/family-of-rust-cinematographer-shot-by-alec-baldwin-sues-for-negligence.

[ix] Anthony Breznikan, Alec Baldwin Sued by the Family of Slain Cinematographer Halyna Hutchins (Feb. 15, 2022), https://www.vanityfair.com/hollywood/2022/02/halyna-hutchins-lawsuit-alec-baldwin-rust.

[x] Id.

[xi] Nancy Dillon, ‘Rust’ Assistant Director Admits He ‘Should Have Checked’ Gun Handed to Alec Baldwin, But Didn’t (May 9, 2022 8:39 PM) https://www.rollingstone.com/movies/movie-news/alec-baldwin-rust-shooting-assistant-director-didnt-check-gun-1248884/.

[xii] Id.

[xiii] Sonia Rao, Alec Baldwin says he isn’t responsible for ‘Rust’ shooting: 8 takeaways from his emotional interview (Dec. 2, 2021) https://www.washingtonpost.com/arts-entertainment/2021/12/02/alec-baldwin-interview-george-stephanopoulos-abc/.

[xiv] Tyson, Robert F. Nuclear Verdicts Defending Justice for All. La Jolla: Law Dog Publishing, LLC, 2020 at page 14.

 

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