Op-Ed

Halyna Hutchins attends a reception on Jan. 28, 2019, in Park City, Utah.

Op-Ed

Halyna Hutchins attends a reception on Jan. 28, 2019, in Park City, Utah. (Fred Hayes / Getty Images for SAGindie)

 By Aron Solomon  February 17, 2022 at 3:33pm

On Tuesday, Alec Baldwin was sued by the husband and son of Halyna Hutchins for her wrongful death. The legal claim paints a picture of a negligent Baldwin running a dangerous film set, far more intent on cutting costs than keeping people safe.

As NPR reported, this isn’t the first lawsuit filed regarding the events of the fateful day Baldwin shot and killed Hutchins, the cinematographer on the movie “Rust.” Suits have already been filed by the film’s script supervisor and lead camera operator. The film’s armorer, a defendant in those suits, has filed her own lawsuit, claiming that an ammunition provider created dangerous conditions by including a live round.

It is important to understand that Hutchins’ family is bringing a civil, not a criminal lawsuit. The purpose of a civil suit is to recover money as compensation for things such as medical costs and lost income.

Many observers were surprised that Baldwin was not criminally charged in Hutchins’ death. Yet a close reading of the relevant New Mexico law (the site of the film set) suggested that the limitations of the state’s criminal statutes were behind the hesitancy of authorities to charge Baldwin with a crime.

David Gelman, a New Jersey criminal defense lawyer, explained that even though Baldwin hasn’t been charged with a criminal offense, this is in no way a bar to a civil suit: “It isn’t uncommon for someone to be sued for wrongful death in a civil action if they have either not been charged or were charged and found to be not guilty in a criminal trial.”

The lawsuit against Baldwin was filed in New Mexico state court in Sante Fe. Mathew Hutchins, et. al., v. Alexander R Baldwin III, et. al., actually has 27 defendants, including Baldwin and the film’s production company.

For Hutchins’ family to be successful in the lawsuit, they will have to prove that her death was the result of Baldwin’s negligence. They will also need to prove that the family has suffered financial damage as a result of Hutchins’ death.

The latter will be easy to demonstrate, as Hutchins was a well-known cinematographer, not even close to the peak of her professional and creative abilities or earning potential.

Do you think Hutchins’ family will win their lawsuit?

The negligence piece is always more complex and far more challenging to prove. The family’s lawyers will craft a narrative surrounding not only Baldwin’s actions, but his character.

Consider that the actor took to Instagram on Tuesday, mere hours after the lawsuit was filed, to post a video featuring bright letters spelling out “Everything is going to be alright.” In itself this proves nothing, but taken as a very small part of a much larger totality, it may help paint a picture of a person who was negligent on and leading up to the day he killed Hutchins.

The Daily Mail reported that Hutchins’ lawyers have created a 3D animation of her death. The video, which was produced as evidence, shows all of the affirmative actions leading up to the shooting, including a computer-generated avatar representing Baldwin accepting the gun with the live ammunition, pointing it at Hutchins, then firing the gun and killing her.

This is going to be absolutely brutal for a jury to see.

The intangibles in a case such as this are interesting: a very polarizing celebrity — due in part to his political activism and personality — killing a rising cinematographer who left behind a husband and young child. Juries are composed of human beings who can’t fully divorce themselves from their feelings, biases and impressions.

While a hopeful Instagram post might give Baldwin some short-lived cool comfort, he will face an entirely different reality in a courtroom.

The views expressed in this opinion article are those of their author and are not necessarily either shared or endorsed by the owners of this website. If you are interested in contributing an Op-Ed to The Western Journal, you can learn about our submission guidelines and process here.

Aron Solomon, JD, is the head of strategy for Esquire Digital and the editor of Today’s Esquire. He has taught entrepreneurship at McGill University and the University of Pennsylvania and was the founder of LegalX, the world’s first legal technology accelerator. Aron’s work has been featured in TechCrunch, Fortune, the Independent, The Boston Globe, The Hill and many other leading publications around the world.

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