Jackson family loses wrongful death suit against concert promoter

Oct. 2, 2013 at 6:52 PM ET

A Los Angeles jury has decided that concert promoter AEG Live did hire Conrad Murray, the doctor who administered the fatal dose of a powerful anesthetic that killed singer Michael Jackson, but that Murray was not unfit or incompetent "to perform the work for which he was hired for." As a result, the jury unanimously determined that the company is not negligent in the death of the pop star and will not have to pay damages to Jackson's family.

Katherine Jackson and her three grandchildren from son Michael Jackson sued AEG Live for wrongful death, claiming the entertainment company that promoted the King of Pop's last concerts failed to pick up on warning signs that could have saved his life. As part of the lawsuit, the Jackson family alleged that AEG did not properly investigate or supervise Murray, who was convicted of involuntary manslaughter in the superstar's death in 2011 and sentenced to four years in prison.

After the verdict was announced, Katherine Jackson told reporters she was OK, according to the Associated Press.

“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,” AEG Live attorney Marvin Putnam said in a statement.

AEG Live's chief executive officer Randy Phillips also issued a statement: “I counted Michael Jackson a creative partner and a friend. We lost one of the world’s greatest musical geniuses, but I am relieved and deeply grateful that the jury recognized that neither I, nor anyone else at AEG Live, played any part in Michael’s tragic death.”

Jurors deliberated for almost three days before reaching the verdict. On Friday, the day deliberations began, the jurors asked for a DVD player and 12 copies of the 2009 documentary, "Michael Jackson's This Is It," which documents the singer's preparation for the London tour he was planning at the time of his death. They also asked for a copy of the contract between AEG Live and Murray.

The often-dramatic five-month trial included dozens of witnesses — including the singer's emotional mother declaring that her son was "not a freak" — and revealed even more details about Michael Jackson's troubled life. 

"They watched him waste away," the 83-year-old matriarch testified. "They could have called me. He was asking for his father. My grandson told me that his daddy was nervous and scared." 

Jackson died in Los Angeles on June 25, 2009, weeks before the start of the planned 50-date "This Is It" tour. 

His two eldest children testified at the trial, 16-year-old Michael Jackson Jr., known as "Prince," who spoke about his relationship with his dad and the harrowing day he lost his father; and his sister, Paris, 15, who offered videotaped testimony. 

During closing arguments, Jackson family attorney Brian Panish told jurors that in addition to economic damages, AEG should pay personal damages of $85 million to each of Jackson’s three children and $35 million to the singer's mother. Although he didn't suggest a specific amount for economic damages, Panish asked the jurors to remember that an expert witness testified that the King of Pop would have earned $1.2 billion to $1.6 billion from new music, tours, endorsements and a Las Vegas show he was considering if he had lived.

“We’re not looking for sympathy,” Panish said. “We’re looking for justice, full and complete.”

But in his closing argument, Putman denied that the concert promoter hired Murray and said AEG Live never had a contract with him and had no idea that Murray was giving Jackson the propofol that killed the star. It was Murray's job to oversee Jackson throughout his rehearsals and the tenure of his "This Is It" London tour. A proposed contract between Murray and AEG Live would have paid the doctor $150,000 a month in advance money, but Jackson would have been required to reimburse AEG Live for the costs. The doctor never actually was paid under the arrangement because the singer died before he could sign it.

"Plaintiffs want you to hold a concert promoter liable for Michael Jackson’s overdose, in his bedroom, at night, behind locked doors,” Putnam said, adding that the singer was a 50-year-old man responsible for his own health and said the singer had a history of "shopping" for doctors who would prescribe him the medication he wanted.

Putnam also reminded the jury that his expert witness placed the economic damages from Jackson’s death closer to $21 million. 

“This has never been anything other than a shakedown,” Putman said during his closing.