A lawyer connected to the surviving relatives of “Rust” cinematographer Halyna Hutchins has has signed paperwork in a New Mexico district court that is a precursor to a possible civil lawsuit over last year’s deadly on-set shooting.
Hutchins died after a gun being maneuvered by actor Alec Baldwin discharged a “lead projectile” in October 2021, police have said. Director Joel Souza was wounded. Baldwin has claimed that he never pulled the trigger of the weapon. Criminal investigations and other civil lawsuits are probing whether and how live ammunition somehow wound up on the set.
The newly filed document itself does not commence a civil action or name potential defendants. It is technically a “petition for appointment” of a personal representative under New Mexico’s Wrongful Death Act. The petitioner, lawyer Kristina Martinez, is asking a judge to be “appoint[ed] as personal representative of the estate of Halyna Hutchins, deceased, solely for the purpose of investigating and pursuing a lawsuit under the New Mexico Wrongful Death Act in the courts of New Mexico.”
“The Wrongful Death Act requires appointment of a personal representative for purposes of investigating and bringing suit,” the document points out. It notes that Hutchins “has two, surviving immediate family members: her husband, Matthew Hutchins, and their minor son, Aldous Hutchins, both of whom support this Petition.”
The paperwork continues:
2. Halyna Hutchins died in Santa Fe County, New Mexico, on October 21, 2021.
3. Petitioner seeks appointment as personal representative pursuant to the Wrongful Death Act for the purpose of investigating, and potentially filing and ligating, a wrongful death lawsuit. There is no relation in this petition to any potentially existing testamentary instrument executed by decedent.
Martinez said that she can handle the matter “in an unbiased manner” because she has no direct “financial interest in the outcome of the case.”
“Any proceeds from a wrongful death case will be distributed pursuant to the personal representative’s fiduciary duty in accordance with the Wrongful Death Act,” the document states.
Martinez refused to answer questions from Law&Crime about the precise identity or identities of her clients in the matter or as to the likelihood of whether a civil lawsuit would commence.
Though Martinez is the named petitioner, the document was filed by attorneys Randi McGinn, Michael E. Sievers, and Christopher T. Papaleo of a separate Albuquerque law firm.
New Mexico’s laws surrounding wrongful death cases are unique among the states. Wrongful death cases in the Land of Enchantment are separate and distinct from probate cases (which involve wills or, in the absence of a will, intestate succession rules). A personal representative who is usually also an attorney — here, Martinez, if approved — would be tasked with dividing any proceeds flowing from the wrongful death itself (e.g., from a civil lawsuit) to beneficiaries who are designated under state statutes. New Mexico’s wrongful death rules operate independently from wills or intestate succession procedures. Even if a decedent in a wrongful death case has a will, the wrongful death statues override it. In Hutchins’ case, the statute dictates that her husband and her son would equally receive any proceeds of any civil lawsuit that may be filed.
At least three other civil lawsuits have already stacked up in connection with the incident. Script supervisor Mamie Mitchell filed an action that accuses Baldwin of failing to follow the script by firing a gun when it wasn’t actually called for. Baldwin replied that Mitchell’s lawsuit was wrong on the law and contained a “faulty” metaphor which likened his alleged actions to a game of “Russian Roulette.” An additional lawsuit by armorer and props assistant Hannah Gutierrez Reed accuses ammunition supplier Seth Kenney and his business of taking reloaded live ammunition from a previous production and providing it to “Rust.” That previous production had been staffed by the famous Hollywood guns-and-ammo operative Thell Reed, Hannah’s father. Serge Svetnoy, the film’s chief lighting technician and electrician, also filed his own separate lawsuit.
Read the filing below:
[Editor’s note: this piece has been updated to more fully analyze New Mexico’s wrongful death law.]
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