Anschutz Entertainment Group (AEG) has had a profound impact on the entertainment scene in Los Angeles, California. Recently, however, AEG is making headlines because of a wrongful death lawsuit filed by the family of Michael Jackson.
“Given the complexity of the case, the wrongful death trial for Michael Jackson could prove longer than average,” explained California lawyer James Ballidis.
Michael Jackson died in 2009 as a result of a fatal dose of an anesthetic drug called propofol. A physician, Dr. Conrad Murray, was allegedly trying to help the singer sleep when he administered the drug. Dr. Murray was convicted of involuntary manslaughter for Jackson’s death in 2011.
Now, Michael Jackson’s mother and children have filed a lawsuit alleging that AEG hired Conrad Murray and pushed Michael Jackson to prepare for a concert tour that he was not physically up to doing. Jackson’s mother and kids allege that AEG was negligent in both hiring and in supervising Conrad Murray, thus making AEG responsible for Jackson’s death and liable for damages.
The court will be hearing evidence on these issues in order to determine whether AEG should be legally responsible and made to pay compensation to surviving family members. The Los Angeles Times reported that the trial has now gotten underway but that it is expected to take more than four months.
Understanding the Michael Jackson Trial
The lawsuit against AEG is a civil one, also referred to as a tort or personal injury lawsuit. Michael Jackson’s mother and children are making a claim to obtain wrongful death damages.
“In order to obtain these damages, Jackson’s mother and sister must prove several different essential elements of a wrongful death claim,” explained California lawyer James Ballidis.
First, the plaintiffs must prove that AEG breached a legal duty to Michael Jackson and that AEG was unreasonably negligent in some way. One argument that is being made in order to prove this is that AEG was negligent in pushing Jackson into the tour and in hiring and supervising Dr. Murray.
If AEG did hire Murray, it will be necessary to determine if Murray was considered to be an employee of AEG at the time when he acted negligently. Employees can be viewed as agents of their employers, which means that every employee act in the course of performing the job is considered to be the equivalent of an employer’s act. This legal rule is referred to as vicarious liability. If Murray was employed by AEG to provide medical care to Jackson and he was negligent while performing his job, it could be argued that AEG is thus negligent and liable for damages since Murray was its agent.
Proving AEG was negligent could also be done by alleging the company was negligent or careless in its own actions, rather than simply through the actions of its employee. For example, if AEG used improper and careless hiring procedures, this could be considered company negligence.
Once it has been proven that AEG was negligent either in their own right or through vicarious liability, the next step would be to show that the negligence was the direct cause of Jackson’s death and that the death would not have occurred but for the negligence.
Finally, Jackson’s family members would need to demonstrate the extent of the monetary losses and other damages that occurred as a result of the untimely death. If Jackson was providing his family with financial support, then this lost money would be a loss that AEG would need to pay for if found liable. Family members could also recover monetary compensation for loss of companionship.
Why the Trial Will Be So Lengthy
Estimates indicate that it could be four months before the jury makes a decision in the trial. The duration of the trial is due to the rules of court procedure and the fact that there are many steps to personal injury proceedings.
One important but time-consuming step in the trial process is jury selection. A jury must be found that can be impartial and make a fair decision based on evidence presented in the case and not information that they know from outside of court.
Potential jurors are being brought into superior court in groups of 35 at a time in order to attempt to find a jury to hear the case. Jurors are then given a questionnaire to see if they can take off the time that the trial is estimated to take. Groups of potential jurors will continue to be brought in every day until there are between 80 and 100 potential jurors who could serve during the trial.
A lawyer from each side will then have the opportunity to ask some basic questions and to have jurors removed if they believe that the juror cannot be impartial during the California wrongful death trial. The process of questioning the jurors and selecting a jury is called voir dire.
Aside from jury selection, there are other time-consuming aspects to this personal injury trial. The plaintiff and the defendant will need to build and present their cases. In order to facilitate this preparation, an exchange of information takes place prior to trial called discovery. Documents can be requested to help bolster a case or learn more information, and witnesses can be interviewed via either deposition or interrogatory.
After discovery, lawyers for both Jackson’s family and AEG will have a chance during the California wrongful death trial to present their arguments about what occurred. Each side can present witnesses and provide relevant evidence to help to convince the jury to see things their way. The process of presenting evidence, cross-examining witnesses, and making opening and closing arguments can be slow, which also helps to explain the lengthy trial period.
Jackson’s family will have the burden of proving their case. Unlike the criminal law’s reasonable doubt standard, plaintiffs in civil personal injury lawsuits do not need to prove liability beyond a reasonable doubt. Instead, AEG can be liable for the death if it is more likely than not true that AEG’s negligence was the direct cause of Jackson’s death.
The jury will then make a decision on whether Jackson’s family is entitled to damages or not. Due to the complexity and public nature of the case and the extent of evidence to be presented, this whole process could prove to be lengthy.
Additional information on the wrongful death claims process is available to the public free of charge through our office’s Preferred Friends and Clients Program.
If you would like to request a free book or article, or to speak with California wrongful death lawyer James Ballidis, feel free to call 1-888-834 5055.