Fast & Furious producers fined £800k over stuntman's brain damage at Warner Brothers' studios

Filming for the Fast & Furious 9 taking place in The Mall in September 2019.
Credit: PA
Filming for Fast & Furious 9 also took place in The Mall in central London. Credit: PA

The makers of a Fast & Furious film have been fined £800,000 after a stuntman suffered brain damage during a staged fight scene which was changed "at the last minute".

Joe Watts was also left with a broken skull after he fell 25 feet headfirst on to the concrete ground at Warner Brothers’ studios in Leavesden, Hertfordshire, on 22 July 2019.

During a stunt fight scene on a balcony for the action film Fast & Furious 9: The Fast Saga, Mr Watts’ safety line detached as he was thrown over the shoulder of another performer.

FF9 Pictures, a multimillion-pound subsidiary of Universal Pictures, was told to pay £800,000 at Luton Magistrates’ Court on Friday after admitting health and safety failings.

Mr Watts had rehearsed being thrown over the other performer’s right shoulder but the stunt changed during filming to the left, the court was told.

The safety line, which worked during the first take, detached from his vest on the second and he plummeted to the ground, missing the crash mats. The wire was not checked between takes.

The film starred Vin Diesel, Michelle Rodriguez, Charlize Theron and Helen Mirren.

Sentencing, district judge Talwinder Buttar criticised the decision to alter the stunt “at the last minute”, saying Mr Watts is “fortunate to be alive”.

She said it was “astonishing” the matting was not adjusted despite the change in the routine from rehearsals.

The prosecution was brought by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), which said FF9 had “no system for double checking that the link had been properly engaged and tightened”.

It said the firm “did not extend the crash matting needed to mitigate the consequences of an unintended fall following changes to the set and the sequence of the stunt”.

Mr Watts has worked on a number of high-profile productions including Game Of Thrones, Johnny English Strikes Again, Star Wars: The Last Jedi and Kingsman: The Golden Circle.

HSE inspector Roxanne Barker said: “Mr Watts’ injuries were life-changing and he could have easily been killed.

“In stunt work, it is not about preventing a fall but minimising the risk of an injury.”

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