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THE COURT FILES / ANN W. O'NEILL

Death After Long Workday Spurs Suit

December 21, 1997|ANN W. O'NEILL

'Twas the week before Christmas and all through the courts, the lawyers were rushing to file their new torts. The dockets were crammed with matters large and small, in hopes there'd be adequate awards for them all.

And what to our wondering eyes did appear? Tragedy, a comic and a settlement near.

WORKED TO DEATH? The widow of motion picture cameraman Brent Lon Hershman, who was killed when he fell asleep at the wheel after a 19-hour workday, alleges in a lawsuit against New Line Cinema and two production companies that a grueling filming schedule left him too exhausted to drive safely.

The death March 6 of the 35-year-old Hershman, a second camera operator's assistant on the film "Pleasantville," starring William H. Macy and Joan Allen, has inspired a movement within Hollywood for more humane working conditions for so-called "under the line," or contracted, employees on movie sets and locations.

A petition calling for a 14-hour daily work limit, dubbed "Brent's Rule," gained more than 10,000 signatures--including those of Sally Field, Robert Altman, Mike Nichols, Nora Ephron, Julia Roberts, Tom Berenger and Kenneth Branagh. It has been endorsed by the Screen Actors Guild and is under study by a committee of the Directors Guild.

The wrongful death suit, seeking unspecified damages, was filed in Superior Court in Torrance on behalf of Deborah Hershman of West Hills and her daughters, ages 8 and 3. In the court papers, attorney John A. Lawrence contends that defendants New Line Cinema, New Line Productions and Juno Pix Inc. were responsible for the cameraman's death.

According to the suit, the companies set up a rigorous shooting schedule in Long Beach the week of March 1-5 to save money "solely for the personal gain and benefit of themselves" and "without regard to the safety, personal circumstances or physical needs" of Hershman.

Those 12- to 14-hour days were followed by the marathon shooting session, for which Hershman began his shift at 6 a.m. March 5 and worked until shortly after 1 the next morning, the suit says.

He was killed about 1:30 a.m. when he fell asleep on the Century Freeway and crashed his car into a utility pole.

A spokesman for New Line Cinema declined comment.

BUMPER CARS: A 72-year-old man has sued tool man Tim Allen in Superior Court in Van Nuys, contending that the "Home Improvement" star hit him with his Ferrari in a Studio City crosswalk in March.

The suit, filed on behalf of retired film librarian Henry Armstrong, further claims that Allen "appeared to act dazed and incoherent" after the 9:30 a.m. accident. Allen's representatives vigorously deny that he was impaired.

The incident occurred while Armstrong, carrying bags of groceries in his arms, was attempting to cross Ventura Boulevard at Valley Vista Boulevard.

Armstrong's attorney, David Grey, claims in the lawsuit that his client had the green light when Allen's Ferrari clipped Armstrong in the back and side after he had taken just a few steps into the crosswalk. The impact threw Armstrong into the air and onto the Ferrari's hood and windshield, sending the groceries flying and the victim to North Hollywood Medical Center, according to the suit.

Allen "appeared to stumble and seemed incapable of appreciating or understanding what had transpired," the suit alleges.

Police at the scene did not cite Allen, and the police report makes no mention of his seeming dazed or under the influence of anything. The report says there were no other witnesses.

Allen's lawyer, Dennis Ardi, said in a written statement that his client was in no way impaired. "This was a minor traffic incident occurring after Tim left his family at the breakfast table and headed to a meeting," Ardi said.

Allen was arrested in Michigan two months after the crosswalk incident on suspicion of driving another Ferrari while under the influence, the legal papers state.

A sobriety test in the Michigan case showed his blood alcohol level to be 0.15%, well above that state's legal limit for driving of 0.10%. Allen pleaded guilty to a charge of driving while impaired, paid a $500 fine and was placed on a year's probation.

ENDING A SCHELL GAME? A state appeals court has upheld a Los Angeles Superior Court judge's award of $250,000 to Oscar-

winning actor Maximilian Schell, saying he deserves to be paid in full for playing Henry Higgins in a 1994 European tour of "My Fair Lady" that closed five weeks early.

Judge Joseph R. Kalin had ruled in Schell's favor, ordering defendant Wolfgang Bocksch Concerts to pay the actor under the terms of his contract. The contract called for Schell to get $50,000 a week, plus a $150 per diem and three plane tickets. The actor was seeking payment for the five remaining weeks.

Bocksch, which contended that Schell had failed to adequately publicize the production, appealed the lower court award but didn't fare any better in the 2nd Appellate District.

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