Dr. Conrad Murray, the 58 year old cardiologist who was convicted by a Los Angeles County jury this week of involuntary manslaughter in the June 25, 2009 death of Michael Jackson, will now face two additional cases in civil court. In September of 2010, Jackson’s mother Katherine Jackson filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the company AEG Live LLC, the promoter of the ill fated “This Is It” tour that Michael Jackson was rehearsing for when he died. Two months later, in November of 2010, the pop star’s father Joe Jackson filed a civil case against Dr. Murray for wrongful death.
The burden of proof in a criminal case is beyond a reasonable doubt, which is defined as “evidence to a moral certainty…” Reasonable doubt is “doubt based on reason and arising from evidence or lack of evidence, and it is doubt which a reasonable man or woman might entertain, not imagined doubt.” Conversely, in a civil case in which the plaintiff is suing for money damages, the burden of proof is known as “a preponderance of the evidence”, which is defined as: “Evidence which is of greater weight or more convincing than the evidence which is offered in opposition to it…that is, evidence which as a whole shows that the fact sought to be proved in more probable than not.” Essentially, preponderance of evidence means that the plaintiff must prove the case by evidence just over 50% to prevail, which is obviously a significantly easier burden than in a criminal case, in which the prosecution must prove that the defendant is guilty “beyond a moral certainty.”
Now that the criminal case has resulted in a finding that Dr. Conrad Murray is legally responsible for Michael Jackson’s death, this is a major advantage for the Jackson family in the civil suits, as the criminal conviction of Murray is certainly admissible in the civil trial against Dr. Murray, although it most likely would not be admissible in the civil case against AEG Live LLC, since the defendants are not the same in both cases as they will be in the civil case against Dr. Murray.
Even if Dr. Murray had prevailed in the manslaughter case, we all recall how O.J. Simpson was exonerated of killing his wife and Ronald Goldman in the murder case in October of 1995, and then found liable in the civil case (in a masterful performance by Goldman’s attorney’s Daniel Petrocelli) for 33 million dollars in February of 1997. Thus, a verdict of not guilty in a criminal case does not guarantee that a civil case will have the same favorable outcome. However, conversely, when a defendant is convicted in a criminal case of manslaughter, this is very strong evidence of liability in a subsequent wrongful death civil case for money damages.
Assessing these two cases individually, it is understandable why Katherine Jackson would want to proceed with a civil case against the promoter AEG, since they are undoubtedly seen as the prototypical “deep pocket” defendant who will either try to settle the case for a significant amount prior to trial or have sufficient insurance and or assets to pay a judgment should a Los Angeles County civil jury find AEG to be liable for the singer’s death. I reviewed the complaint for damages filed by Ms. Jackson on September 15, 2010 on behalf of her grandchildren Michael Joseph Jackson, Jr., Paris-Michael Katherine Jackson, and Michael Jackson II. In the 18 page complaint, Ms. Jackson, through her attorneys, has painted a picture of Michael Jackson having no free will, and being the prisoner of a contract with AEG in which in exchange for considerable advances for his contract with AEG to deliver concerts in the “This Is It” tour, they required him to utilize the services of an incompetent physician, Dr. Murray, whose main responsibility was to make sure that Jackson showed up at rehearsals. Further, the complaint contends that Jackson was warned to receive medications and drugs administered to him by Murray, and to discontinue any treatment from previous physicians including his friend and family doctor, Arnold Klein. To be frank, and having watched the movie “This Is It”, Jackson appears fully in control of everything that was going on, and in my opinion will be a hard sell to a jury to claim that AEG forced Michael Jackson to take drugs and use their alleged physician in order to appear for rehearsals. Why would AEG enter into a contract with Jackson if they were so concerned that he would not be physically able to perform the concerts?
In contrast, the case against Dr. Murray in light of the criminal verdict would appear much more solid. Dr. Murray was the person who obtained the propofol, who treated Jackson with this sedative for more than two months at the time of Jackson’s death, and knew or should have known that propofol should only be used in a hospital with the necessary personnel and equipment for such a powerful anesthetic drug. It is probable that a civil jury might also ascribe some or a significant amount of responsibility to Jackson himself, as he was clearly addicted to numerous drugs, and had utilized the services of several physicians prior to Dr. Murray to continue obtaining multiple prescriptions.
In either of the civil cases, there is also the question of what the actual damages are. In wrongful death cases, the elements of damage include the loss of parental support of the children, both emotional and financial. Thus, there would have to be an analysis of what Jackson’s earnings were at the time of his death, as well as his future earnings potential. There are also potential damages for Mr. or Ms. Jackson, if they could prove that Jackson was providing some financial support to them at the time of his death, but based on what appeared to be Jackson’s estrangement from his family at that time, this element of damages will likely not be substantiated.
Contact the White Plains, New York Law Office Of Mark A. Siesel online or toll free at 914-224-3086 if you are charged with a crime for a free initial consultation with an experienced criminal defense lawyer to discuss your legal rights and options.