The Los Angeles Superior Court complaint was brought Monday, Sept. 19, by Hualan Wang and Hua Sun, the father and mother, respectively, of the late 29-year-old Peng “Aaron” Wang. The couple are seeking unspecified damages, plus compensation for funeral and burial expenses. Also named as defendants were the film’s director, Ting Su, and producer, Biangliang Li, both of whom are USC students and Chinese nationals.
“Asking film students to handle and oversee all of their own on-set safety without oversight is like asking an elephant to fly, according to USC’s own faculty,” the suit states. In a statement Tuesday, USC responded to the suit, saying, “USC was not responsible for Mr. Wang’s tragic death. We will be sharing the facts about our robust safety procedures and safety record in court.”
Wang was a Chapman University film student recruited by the USC students to serve as their cameraman for “Finale,” a movie about the hallucinations and death of a man in the desert, the suit states. Filming took place in the Glamis Dunes, east of Brawley, and Wang died from injuries sustained when a Can-Am off-road vehicle, driven by Li, rolled down one of the dunes on April 15, the suit states. Wang’s Imperial County death certificate, attached to the suit, states he died of blunt neck trauma.
USC documents and statements “are clear that USC is aware of the risk of injury or death on student film projects in general, and particularly on film locations far from L.A., in the desert, and utilizing (off-road) vehicles,” the suit states. USC had the responsibility and ability to exercise control over its students and its school film projects, according to the suit. However, the university was “negligent in the exercise of that control on the ‘Finale’ production” instead of fulfilling its obligation to protect Wang from harm, the suit states.
The suit contends USC actively recruits Chinese students such as Li and Su to enroll in its film school, yet fails to teach them to identify and react to the inherent dangers of film-making. Su and Li themselves were negligent in their provision of planning, control and safety in that they did not ensure Li had the proper training to drive the vehicle and that Wang would be protected, the suit states.