Jackson’s family sued AEG a year after the King of Pop died in June of 2009, arguing that the concert promoter negligently hired and controlled Murray, who was found guilty of involuntary manslaughter for giving Jackson propofol before his death.
Today a jury ruled that while the concert promoter hired Murray, he was not unfit for his job, thereby rejecting the lawsuit brought by Jackson’s mother, Katherine, and other members of his family.
A victory for the Jacksons could have produced hundreds of millions of dollars in damages for Katherine and the King of Pop’s three children and provided a rebuke of AEG Live, the country’s second-largest concert promoter.
“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,” Marvin Putnam of O’Melveny & Myers, AEG Live’s lead trial counsel, said in a statement.
“There was simply no evidence that anyone at AEG did anything wrong,” Putnam added. “The win was a great victory for [AEG executive Randy] Phillips in particular, who was personally sued by the Jacksons.”
“I counted Michael Jackson a creative partner and a friend,” Phillips said. “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.”
Katherine Jackson told reporters she was OK after the verdict.
AEG Inc. CEO Dan Beckerman added: “I am pleased that the jury recognized that this lawsuit was without merit, and the entire AEG family looks forward to putting this unfortunate chapter behind us.”
The central question in the wrongful death case was responsibility.
AEG Live maintained there wasn’t enough evidence to suggest that it was responsible for Murray’s hiring, that the doctor had been Michael Jackson’s longtime physician and that it only administered the relationship.
In contrast, Jackson’s family attempted to show that AEG’s executives were deeply familiar with Jackson’s ill state and in advance of the planned This Is It tour, placed pressures on Jackson and his team that eventually led to his death.
At trial, Brian Panish, the attorney for the family, admitted that the singer had a role in Murray’s hiring, but said that Jackson was only 20 percent to blame for what happened. Instead, Panish pointed to the “money-making machine” that was Jackson’s tour, and said of AEG Live, “All they care about is: How much money is this freak going to make for them?”
“Propofol might not be the best idea,” he added. “But if you have a competent doctor, you’re not going to die.”
Marvin Putnam, attorney for the defense, ridiculed this idea as well as the Jackson family’s request to award up to $2 billion in damages.
“AEG Live did not have a crystal ball,” he said. “Dr. Murray and Mr. Jackson fooled everyone. They want to blame AEG for something no one saw.”
The trial concluded last week after 58 witnesses including Jackson’s mother, two of his kids, his ex-wife Debbie Rowe, AEG execs and Kenny Ortega, the director of the aborted comeback show, gave testimony over 21 weeks.
In an entertainment industry in which producers have been increasing their up-front fees in order to maintain more control, the decision will come as a relief to those who feared a decision for the Jackson family would be a deterrent toward pushing performers to meet contractual obligations and intervening in personal affairs.
Some legal observers believe the decision was the right call.
Eric German, an attorney at Mitchell Silberberg & Knupp, says, “Just as in other areas of the law where we want to encourage someone to help rather than to sit idly by watching someone in need struggle, the law needs to provide room for entertainment industry professionals to use their unique position of trust to involve themselves to a greater degree in meeting the personal needs of the artist.”