After five months of a grueling, hotly contested legal battle, on October 2, 2013, a Los Angeles jury, comprised of six men and six women, found concert promoter AEG not liable in the June, 2009 wrongful death of pop icon Michael Jackson. Katherine Jackson, the late pop singer’s mother, had sued AEG Live in 2010 in a multi-million dollar lawsuit. Her contention was that AEG had hired Dr. Conrad Murray, the physician who was convicted in November of 2011 of involuntary manslaughter for infusing Jackson with the surgical anesthetic Propofol, which led to Jackson’s drug overdose on June 25, 2009, just days before Jackson was due to commence a mammoth world tour dubbed “This Is It.” AEG argued that they had no way of knowing of the dangerous Propofol infusions, and that Jackson was addicted to a variety of drugs which was the primary factor in his death.
Jackson’s mother alleged in her legal papers that AEG was negligent in “hiring, retaining, or supervising Murray”, and that this was a substantial factor in the 50 year old pop singer’s untimely death. A significant piece of evidence in the case was the contract between AEG and Dr. Murray in which he was paid a whopping $150,000 per month to keep Jackson healthy enough to perform on an extended tour. There was clearly substantial evidence to show that Jackson had “doctor shopped”, seeking a physician who would supply him with regular doses of Propofol (which he referred to as his “milk”) to combat chronic insomnia and allow him to withstand the rigors of touring.
The jurors deliberated for approximately 13 hours over 3 days before reaching their verdict. Jackson’s attorney, Brian Panish, had suggested to jurors that they award between 1 billion and 2 billion dollars in damages to the Jackson family, to compensate his mother and children for the loss of his potential earnings from the age of 50 until the age of approximately 66 when he would allegedly stop touring. This included a specific request for an award of $85 million to each of Jackson’s three children and $35 million to his mother Katherine. However, it is tough to argue on the one hand that Jackson was in such horrible and frail physical condition, as Jackson’s attorneys did (Even the name of the tour, ‘This Is It”, contradicts the claim that Jackson intended to tour for another 16 years), and also claim that Jackson was now going to tour much more extensively than he had previously until he reached retirement age–the jury must have seen that contradiction. Panish did concede in his closing argument that the King of Pop’s own conduct contributed to his death, but asked that the jury limit Jackson’s culpability to 20%.
Unlike in New York, where a wrongful death trial has a jury of 6, with an agreement of five of six jurors necessary to reach a verdict, in Los Angeles, a civil jury is comprised of 12 jurors, with an agreement among nine required for a verdict. The trial was bifurcated, meaning that in order for the jury to have found that AEG had to pay damages to the plaintiffs, they first had to determine “liability”, or legal fault, against AEG, which they obviously decided was not supported by the evidence. Undoubtedly, the jury rejected Jackson’s claims of being a victim, as exemplified in some post verdict comments by juror Kevin Smith: “Michael Jackson was used to getting his way…he could pretty much get what he wanted…anybody that said no, they were out of the mix and he’d find someone else.”
Jackson’s attorneys have indicated that they plan to appeal the verdict. In my opinion, that appeal has little chance of success, as it was apparent from the inception of this case that it would be very hard to prove that AEG could have known that Dr. Murray was performing infusions of a surgical anesthetic in Jackson’s home on a daily basis, and that they would have supported this tremendously dangerous conduct had they been aware of it.
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