Fast & Furious producers fined £800,000 after stuntman's brain damage

Fast & Furious producers are fined £800,000 after stuntman who fell 25 feet from a balcony during a staged fight scene at Warner Brothers’ studios in Hertfordshire suffered brain damage

  • Stuntman Joe Watts previously was left unable to work again in the profession

The producers of a Fast & Furious film have been fined £800,000 after a stuntman suffered brain damage after falling 25 feet onto concrete during a staged fight scene.

Joe Watts, 35, was also left with a broken skull after he fell headfirst on to the concrete ground at Warner Brothers’ studios in Leavesden, Hertfordshire, on July 22 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.

Joe Watts, 35, was working on the set of the Fast and Furious movie when the stunt went wrong, leaving him ‘lucky to be alive’

Mr Watts was on set performing a stunt for the ninth film in the Fast and Furious franchise

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.

He was rushed by air ambulance to the Royal London Hospital, where he was put into an induced coma for five days. 

The former sports massage therapist from Epsom, Surrey, spent a month in hospital at the Royal London, and a further six weeks at the Wellington hospital.

He had to re-learn a lot of basic skills, including speech and many aspects of everyday living, and he can no longer work as a stuntman.

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 is ‘astonishing’ the matting was not adjusted despite the change in the routine from rehearsals.

Joe Watts, pictured with his partner Tilly Powell, now needs assistance to navigate his day-to-day activities and will no longer be able to work as a stuntman

Sentencing, district judge Talwinder Buttar criticised the decision to alter the stunt for the film (pictured) ‘at the last minute’, saying Mr Watts is ‘fortunate to be alive’

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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