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Michael Jackson's Death On Trial: AEG Vs. The Jackson Family

Jury selection began yesterday in the trial of Katherine Jackson and Michael’s children against concert promoter AEG Live.  The Jackson heirs reportedly will ask the jury for $40 billion in damages against AEG Live.  They blame the company for Dr. Conrad Murray’s ill-fated propofol treatment of the late King of Pop.  300px-Michael_Jackson_Cannescropped3

What is this trial really about?  Can the concert promoter be held legally responsible for Dr. Murray’ criminal mistreatment of Michael Jackson?

The answers are complicated and will be sorted out over the course of the next two to three months in front of a Los Angeles jury.  The trial will turn on two key questions:  Did AEG Live “hire” Dr. Murray to treat Michael Jackson, and if so, was it foreseeable to AEG that Dr. Murray could overdose Michael?  If the jury determines that the answer to both questions is yes, then it would then have to determine how much blame should be laid at the feet of AEG Live.

Katherine Jackson and her lawyers claim that AEG Live hired, supervised and controlled Dr. Murray, “putting its desire for massive profits from the Tour over the health and safety of Michael Jackson.”  AEG Live says that only Michael hired the doctor and it had no responsibility for how Dr. Murray treated Michael.

Originally, the heirs’ attorneys brought many different wrongful death claims against AEG Live, its parent corporation, and others associated with it.  But the defendants asked the judge to dismiss the claims for various reasons.  The judge agreed that AEG Live breached no direct duties of care to Michael Jackson and could not be legally responsible for Dr. Murray’s actions as an employee.  But the judge allowed one claim to proceed to trial.

The claim of negligent hiring, training, and supervision will be decided by the jury.  The judge determined that, while AEG Live had not entered into a written contract with Dr. Murray to care for Michael (one was prepared but Michael died before it was signed), it may have verbally agreed to hire him as an independent contractor, even before the contract was signed.  For example, the judge noted that AEG Live communicated with Dr. Murray regarding Michael’s care and treatment and included the costs of his services in the tour budget.

The judge also felt that there was enough evidence that AEG Live could have foreseen the harm presented by Dr. Murray to allow the claim to survive the motion for dismissal.  Dr. Murray was deeply in debt and had no other source of income (other than $150,000 per month he was to be paid for treating Michael).  More importantly, the judge pointed to AEG Live’s experience with other “tour doctors” who unethically administered large amounts of drugs to Michael in the past.  The judge ruled that only the jury could determine if AEG Live should have been aware that the strong financial pressure Dr. Murray was under was enough to cause him to potentially put Michael at risk of harm by over-medicating him.

The jury will be asked to wade through mountains of evidence, including thousands of pages of documents, witness testimony from dozens of witnesses, and more.  For example, AEG Live will focus on Michael Jackson’s troubled past, including his child molestation trial, in an effort to shift the blame onto Michael.  Its legal team will try to focus on Michael’s drug addictions and say he — not AEG Live — was responsible for compelling Dr. Murray to administer so much propofol.

The Jackson heirs will rely heavily on key e-mails between AEG executives, including ones that stated that AEG, not Michael Jackson, was paying Dr. Murray, and another that stated that AEG had checked out Dr. Murray, who was “extremely successful”.  Further, other emails showed that someone within AEG was so concerned with Michael’s health and well-being in the months leading up to his death that he recommended immediate psychological intervention.  That request was denied by the head of AEG Live.

AEG Live’s lead counsel told CNN that they are confident that AEG Live will win if the jury focuses on the facts, not the emotions.  He questions why the Jackson lawyers plan to call Michael’s children — Prince and Paris — as witnesses during trial.  The Jackson attorneys, in turn, believe that the emails and other evidence paint a compelling picture of AEG Live pressuring Dr. Murray with fear of losing his lucrative job, so that he would do anything to get Michael ready for the tour, despite his fragile health.  They feel that the one claim that survived dismissal is the cleanest and easiest claim to present to a jury during trial.

The trial promises to be emotional, heated, and dramatic.  At times, Michael Jackson’s oddities and personal demons will take center stage.  Other times, it will be the corporate executives’ desire for profit — even in the face of concerns over Michael’s health.

Until the evidence is revealed, it is too close to call at this time who is likely to come out on top.  But it will be a fascinating ride along the way.

By Danielle and Andrew Mayoras, co-authors of Trial & Heirs: Famous Fortune Fights!, husband-and-wife legacy expert attorneys, and hosts of the national television special, Trial & Heirs:  Protect Your Family Fortune! For the latest celebrity and high-profile cases, with tips to protect yourself, your loved ones, and your clients, click here to subscribe to The Trial & Heirs Update.  You can “like” them on Facebook and follow them on Twitter and Google+.

For legal help in Michigan, visit Andy and Danielle's law firm's websites, The Center for Elder Law and The Center for Probate Litigation.