Jackson's mother leads fight in $40bn 'wrongful death' suit
Published 29/04/2013 | 05:00
The family of Michael Jackson will arrive in a courtroom today seeking a staggering $40bn (€30bn) in damages for the singer's death in what would be one of the largest wrongful death settlements in history.
It is nearly four years since Jackson was found lifeless in a Beverly Hills mansion, after a lethal dose of the prescription anaesthetic propofol, but the bitter recriminations over who was responsible are about to get even nastier.
The incompetence of Conrad Murray, the performer's personal physician who has already been convicted of involuntary manslaughter, was the direct cause of his demise.
But Jackson's family, led by their 82-year-old matriarch Katherine Jackson, will spend the next three months attempting to prove the overall fault lay with AEG Live, a corporate entertainment behemoth that was bankrolling his planned series of comeback concerts at the O2 Arena in London.
In the Jackson family's eyes, Murray was merely a pawn whose calamitous mistake administering propofol was symptomatic of the lack of care shown to the physically and mentally frail musician by a promoter blinded by dollar signs.
The case is already mired in acrimony and nothing will be off limits in court. Jackson's medical records will be revealed to prove the depths of his dependency on drugs, and AEG Live lawyers will point to his child-molestation trial and acquittal in 2005 as the starting point of a drug-induced downward spiral.
For their part, Jackson lawyers have accused AEG Live attorneys of being overly aggressive when taking statements from the singer's son Prince (16). The AEG Live lawyers angrily denied that, and accused Jackson lawyers of trying to "whip things up into a frenzy" and of deploying Prince and his sister Paris (15) as witnesses in an attempt to emotionally sway the jury.
In preliminary court skirmishes, Brian Panish, the Jacksons' lawyer, accused AEG Live of fighting every point like it was "World War Three".
The wood-paneled courtroom where the case will play out is just two blocks from where Murray was convicted and jailed for four years in 2011.
Judge Yvette Palazuelos has taken steps to avoid a media circus, rejecting US network requests for cameras in court. The judge, who has previously handled civil cases involving Rihanna, Tom Hanks and Mel Gibson's ex-girlfriend Oksana Grigorieva, is also trying to prevent grandstanding by limiting opening statements to two-and-a-half hours.
But with a list of likely witnesses including the Jackson children, music stars Diana Ross and Prince, and Jackson's ex-wives Lisa Marie Presley and Debbie Rowe, a circus seems inevitable.
If the Jackson family is successful, the amount of damages would ultimately be decided by a jury.
The $40bn figure is based on the Jackson family's assessment of the performer's potential future earnings, had he not died. AEG Live calls the amount "preposterous" for a singer in decline, and "a hope, a dream, that's not a basis for damages".
The court arguments will centre primarily on whether AEG Live, or Jackson himself, were responsible for employing the negligent Murray. At the time of his death neither AEG Live nor Jackson had actually signed the doctor's $150,000-a-month contract.
According to Mrs Jackson's 18-page complaint: "At the time of his death Michael Jackson was under the immediate care of a doctor selected by, hired by, and controlled by AEG. Due to AEG's actions and inactions three loving children lost their father and the world lost its most celebrated entertainer.
Kenny Ortega, Jackson's show director, emailed AEG Live with concerns that Jackson was cold and shivering, and exhibiting "paranoia, anxiety and obsessive-like behaviour." In response he was told that Murray was "an extremely successful" doctor.
AEG Live says the emails have been taken "completely out of context".
According to its lawyer, Marvin Putnam, there was no pressure placed on Jackson to perform. (© Daily Telegraph, London)