EXCLUSIVE: Stuntman sues Fast and Furious after fight scene injury

EXCLUSIVE: British stuntman sues Fast and Furious producers for more than £1m after he suffered broken skull and brain damage in 25ft fall onto concrete during fight scene with Vin Diesel’s stand-in

  • Joe Watts, 34, fractured skull and traumatic brain damage after his 25ft fall
  • He was staging a fight with another stuntman who was standing in for Vin Diesel
  • The stuntman was rushed by air ambulance to the Royal London Hospital
  • He is now suing producers for more than £1million in damages

A professional stuntman who suffered life-changing brain injuries in a shocking fall on the latest Fast and Furious movie set is suing the producers for more than £1million in damages.

Joe Watts, 34, was in a staged fight with another stuntman who was standing in for F&F star Vin Diesel when he fell 25ft onto concrete and sustained a fractured skull and traumatic brain damage.

The stunt required Mr Watts to be thrown over the shoulder of the other performer off the side of an 8m high balcony.

But a safety wire designed to halt his descent failed to stop him crashing to the ground.

Joe Watts, 32, (pictured) is suing Fast and Furious producers for more than £1million in damages a shocking fall on the movie set

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

Now Mr Watts and his fiancée Tilly Powell, 30, are suing the production company, FF9 Pictures Ltd, a subsidiary of movie giant Universal Pictures, for alleged negligence over safety procedures.

Mr Watts had performed movie and TV stunts for four years, and appeared in blockbuster franchises including Star Wars, Mission Impossible and Game of Thrones.

But in July 2019, whilst on the set of F9 – the ninth film in the Fast and Furious franchise – his career effectively came to a disastrous end.

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.

According to documents now lodged at the High Court by his solicitors Irwin Mitchell, Mr Watts, playing an Elite Guardsman, was filming a fight scene with another taking stuntman standing-in for Vin Diesel’s character Dom when the accident happened.

After rehearsals in which he had been thrown over Dom’s right shoulder, in the first take he was thrown over ‘Dom’s’ left shoulder and suspended above the floor by the safety wire which did its job.

But on the second take, a connector on the safety wire apparently failed and he plummeted to the floor below, missing the crash mats, and hitting his head on the concrete floor.

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

Now, the claim states, he suffers from problems with balance, weakness in his left ankle and shoulder, fatigue, mood changes, as well as depression, anxiety, anger and irritability.

He will no longer be able to work as a stuntman, and if he were able to go back to work of any kind, he will be permanently handicapped on the labour market, the claim says.

At the moment he needs help to manage his day-to-day activities, is easily distracted, suffering memory problems, and difficulties with planning and organisation.

After having one seizure, he takes anti-epileptic medication and is seeking damages and provisional damages allowing him to return to court for more compensation if his condition deteriorates and he develops epilepsy.

He had been filming a fight scene on a raised gantry at Leavesden Studios in Watford.

The safety wire was attached to his harness with a Maillon Rapide connector, a mountaineering steel link which screws shut and, he says, should have been replaced after being used to stop a fall.

Crash mats were on the floor, but some had been removed to allow access for a camera, leaving a newly exposed area of floor.

After stuntman Troy Robinson threw him once, the connector was not replaced, claims Mr Watts and it failed during the second throw, with him missing the crash mats and landing on the floor, the court will hear.

He accuses the producers of negligently using the Maillon connector when it was unsuitable and should not have been used, failing to assess the connector, and allowing him to carry out the stunt when the rigging was not capable of taking his weight because it was not closed or had been distorted during the first performance of the stunt.

Staff negligently failed to check that the connector was properly closed, had not been distorted by the first use, and failed to replace it, he claims.

The company also negligently failed to carry out a risk assessment that the safety wire might fall, that his trajectory might change if he was thrown in a different way to that which had been rehearsed, and failed to provide enough crash mats, it is alleged.

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

Laura Middleton-Guerard, the specialist workplace injury lawyer at Irwin Mitchell representing Mr Watts and Ms Powell, said: ‘The past three years have been incredibly difficult for Joe, who has been left with life-changing injuries.

‘He’s unable to continue in the job he loved and now relies on Tilly and his clinical team to help him with everyday things people often take for granted.

‘As a professional stunt performer, Joe believes more could have been done to protect him from the risks involved in this work. We have now launched court proceedings against FF9 Limited.

‘While Joe would rather not be in this position, he feels that his only option is to take legal action. He continues to work hard on his recovery . We’ll continue to support him by ensuring he has access to funding for the ongoing treatment he needs as he attempts to move forward with his life.

‘We also call on FF9 Limited to work with us to resolve Joe’s case as soon as possible.’

Joe said: ‘It’s been more than three years, but I’m still hugely affected by what happened that day.

‘I loved performing stunts and not being able to work as a performer anymore still devastates me. I’m so lucky to be alive though. I also wouldn’t have got through the last few years if I hadn’t had Tilly by my side. She’s my rock.

‘While I can’t change anything now, I feel like more should have been done to stop something like this from happening to me. I hope lessons will be learnt so other stunt performers can be safer in their line of work.’

No defence document has yet been filed with the court by the movie producers. MailOnline contacted lawyers for FF9 Pictures Ltd and Universal Pictures.

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