Judge denies USC’s bid to obtain coroner photos of cinematographer in wrongful death case

A Los Angeles judge has denied a motion by the University of Southern California to obtain coroner photos of a cinematographer killed during a student film shoot in April 2022.

Judge Anne Hwang delivered the ruling Friday, determining that the school did not file its motion to compel compliance with a deposition subpoena within the mandatory deadline of 60 days after the Imperial County coroner’s office declined to hand over 36 photos of the deceased, Peng Wang.

Additionally, the court found that USC did not submit a meet and confer declaration, a required component of a motion to compel compliance with a deposition subpoena.

Attorneys for USC did not immediately respond Wednesday to The Times’ request for comment.

Wang’s parents filed a wrongful death lawsuit against USC in September 2022 after their son died while working on a film that USC students were making as part of a directing class at the school. Wang, who went by the name of Aaron on campus, was a 29-year-old graduate student at Chapman University pursuing a master’s degree in fine arts.

According to the lawsuit, Wang was killed after a USC film student lost control of an off-road vehicle that rolled while traversing the Imperial Sand Dunes Recreation Area with the cinematographer inside. The complaint alleges that the university sanctioned the project and was aware that the students would be operating off-road vehicles and shooting in the desert.

USC officials previously said that the school had no knowledge of any requested or granted approvals to use off-road vehicles and film in a location that is more than 230 miles from campus. However, the lawsuit notes that USC’s film school had approved a “student certification” for the film and assigned it a production number.

Wang was listed as the director of photography on the film, whose budget included charges for the rental of an off-road vehicle and indicated that the project was shooting in the desert.

“Safety should trump everything on student film projects made in fulfillment of USC class requirements,” Wang’s parents said in their suit.

“USC has a responsibility to return the people who make its films back to their families intact. USC is liable for its negligent failure to exercise control over, and to ensure safety on, the … student film project. That negligence resulted in [Wang’s] death and the ensuing damages for which plaintiffs bring suit to recover.”

A hearing date for a motion by Wang’s family to compel further production of documents and discovery responses from USC has been scheduled for Feb. 20 in downtown Los Angeles.

Former Times staffer Anousha Sakoui contributed to this report.

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