LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - A Los Angeles jury cleared concert promoter AEG Live of liability on Wednesday 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.
Putnam said after the trial that AEG Live had never considered settling the case out of court.
The Jackson family had claimed in its lawsuit that AEG Live, the concert division of privately held Anschutz Entertainment Group, negligently hired Conrad Murray as Jackson's personal physician and ignored signs that the "Thriller" singer was in poor health prior to his death.
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.
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.
"We felt he was competent to do the job of general practitioner," said Barden, who works for the Los Angeles Unified School District. "Now that doesn't mean that we thought he was ethical, and maybe had the word ethical been in the question, it could have been a different outcome."
Jackson family lawyer Kevin Boyle said outside court that attorneys and the family were "of course not happy" with the verdict.
"We will be exploring all options, legally and factually," Boyle said.
FAMILY SOUGHT $1 BILLION IN DAMAGES
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. He is in a California prison and is expected to be released later this month.
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.
University of Southern California law professor Jody Armour said that the plaintiff's argument that AEG Live disregarded Jackson's health in their pursuit of profits did not persuade the jury.
"The jury decided the case on the notions of personal responsibility, and concluded that Michael Jackson had some responsibility in picking Murray and creating the circumstances surrounding his own death," Armour said.
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.
(Additional reporting by Steve Gorman, Piya Sinha-Roy and Dan Whitcomb; Writing by Dan Whitcomb; Editing by Cynthia Johnston, Bob Burgdorfer and Philip Barbara)