LOS ANGELES, (Reuters) – A Los Angeles jury cleared concert promoter AEG Live of liability yesterday in a wrongful death lawsuit brought by the family of Michael Jackson, in a trial that offered a glimpse into the private life and final days of the so-called King of Pop.
The verdict, which concluded that the doctor the company hired to care for the singer was not unfit for his job, capped a sensational five-month trial that threatened to shake up the way entertainment companies treat their most risky talent.
“The jury’s decision completely vindicates AEG Live, confirming what we have known from the start – that although Michael Jackson’s death was a terrible tragedy, it was not a tragedy of AEG Live’s making,” defense attorney Marvin Putnam said in a statement following the verdict.
Jackson’s 83-year-old mother, Katherine, and his three children sued AEG Live over the singer’s 2009 death at age 50 in Los Angeles from an overdose of the surgical anesthetic propofol.
The family matriarch was in court for the verdict, which came on the fourth day of deliberations, and appeared to be emotional as it was read, lifting her glasses to wipe at her eyes. She smiled briefly as she left the courtroom.
Jackson family lawyer Kevin Boyle said outside court that attorneys and the family were “of course not happy” with the verdic
“We will be exploring all options, legally and factually,” Boyle said.
The Jackson family had claimed in its lawsuit that privately held AEG Live negligently hired Conrad Murray as Jackson’s personal physician and ignored signs that the “Thriller” singer was in poor health prior to his death.
Murray, who was caring for Jackson as the singer rehearsed for his series of 50 comeback “This Is It” concerts, was convicted of involuntary manslaughter in 2011 for administering the propofol that killed the star.
Jackson family lawyers had suggested in closing arguments that damages could exceed $1 billion if AEG Live was found liable. AEG Live had argued that it was Jackson who chose Murray as his physician.
In explaining the verdict outside court, jury foreman Greg Barden said jurors had concluded that Murray was competent for the job he was hired to do – to act as a general practitioner to Jackson.
“That doesn’t mean we felt he was ethical,” Barden said. “He was competent for the job he was hired to do and that’s what we had to focus on.”
Several relatives of Jackson testified during the trial, including his mother, eldest son Prince and ex-wife Debbie Rowe.
Rowe, who was married to Jackson from 1996 to 1999, told the court that doctors had competed for Jackson’s business and took advantage of the singer’s fear of pain by giving him high-powered pain killers.
Rowe said she first grew concerned about Jackson’s prescription drug use in the early 1990s after he underwent surgery on his scalp and that she saw the singer use propofol to sleep as early as 1997.