When the late 50-year-old pop icon Michael Jackson’s personal physician Dr. Conrad Murray was convicted Nov. 7, 2011 for involuntary manslaughter, it was just a matter of time before the Jackson family sued Jackson’s promoter American Entertainment Group [AEG]. Arguing that AEG hired Murray who administered a lethal dose of the operating anesthetic Propofol June 25, 2009, Jackson Family attorney Brian Panish asked a six-man, six-woman jury to hold AEG responsible for Jackson’s untimely death. Stripped of his medical license and sent to prison for three years Nov. 29, 2011, Murray received the maximum sentence for the watered-down charge on involuntary manslaughter. Charging Murray with involuntary manslaughter Feb. 8, 2010, Los Angeles County District Atty. Steve Cooley sought the lesser charge to assure eventual conviction.
Jackson’s mother, Katherine, wasn’t satisfied with the outcome, seeking $2 billion in damages, estimating the loss of Michael’s earnings from his untimely death. While that seems logical, it wasn’t AEG that administered the lethal overdose of Propofol June 25, 2009. Katherine Jackson watched a jury Nov. 7, 2011 convict Murray of involuntary manslaughter in her son’s death. No matter how tragic Jackson’s death, life-or-death decisions between a doctor-and-patient have nothing to do with a concert promoter, whether or not they hired Murray or paid his salary. In closing arguments, AEG attorneys argued that they were pressured by Jackson to hire Murray, disowning accountability. But whether or not they hired Murray, AEG did not approve or supervise Murray’s medical treatments. No rational jury can hold AEG responsible for the acts of a California licensed physician.
Jackson family attorney reminded jurors that AEG executives CEO Randy Phillips and co-CEO Paul Congaware disparaged the Jackson, calling him “the freak.” While that’s offensive enough, it says nothing about corporate accountability for medical malpractice. Medical ethics experts at the American Medical Assn and elsewhere viewed the Murray involuntary manslaughter trial as a case of medical malpractice. Knowing the fine line between medical and criminal negligence wasn’t easy for Murray’s jury. When the convicted him of involuntary manslaughter, they disagreed with medical experts viewing the case as medical malpractice. No corporation can be held liable for the acts of independently licensed professionals that answer to the higher authority of state licensing boards and professional organizations. “They’re a money-making machine,” Panish told the jury.
All corporations are money-making machines or they wouldn’t be in business. “All they care about is how much money is this freak going to make them,” said Panish, appealing not to juror’s logic or even the law but to irrational emotions. Panish’s arguments violate every known principle of personal or corporate accountability. It’s the equivalent of suing gun-makers for the shooting deaths or injuries from their products. While trial attorneys would like to get a piece to the pie, there are limits to liability, regardless of what turns up on embarrassing e-mails. “It’s not right, ladies and gentlemen,” Panish said. “It would not be right to allow Gongaware and Phillips to skate down the street and click their champagne glasses at AEG Live,” distracting the jury away from their job of apportioning liability. Murray already paid a draconic price for his incompetence and criminal negligence.
AEG’s attorney Marvin Putnam lent credibility to Panish’s arguments, blaming Jackson’s death on his own mistakes. When e-mails surfaced showing the AEG hired Murray, their defense focused on Jackson’s relationship to Murray. AEG argued that Jackson insisted that Murray accompany him on his London tour. “It was his money and he certainly wasn’t going to take no for an answer,” said Putnam. Getting lost in “he said, she said” arguments confuse jurors by not properly identifying medical and criminal liability. However much money AEG stood to make on Jackson or whatever unflattering comments were made, they have nothing to do with Murray’s medical malpractice and criminal negligence. Hoping to get apportioned some accountability, Jackson’s attorneys hope to divert jurors away from basic logic and the criminal trial that punished Murray for his incompetence.
AEG’s attorney spent far too much time on who hired Murray rather than informing jurors about the nature of medical liability. No corporate entity has any control over the medical malpractice or incompetence of state licensed professionals. While what happened to Jackson was tragic and unnecessary, AEG wasn’t responsible in any way with Murray’s medical decision-making. “It was his money and he certainly wasn’t going to take no for an answer,” said Putnam, confusing jurors about the nature of medical liability. Whether AEG hired Murray or not, no corporation can be held liable for the negligent acts of state licensed practitioners. Assigning AEG one penny of liability would violate every known principle of personal or professional accountability. No one liked to see Jackson overdosed, certainly not his concert promoter. Murray already paid the price, for better or worse.
About the Author
John M. Curtis writes politically neutral commentary analyzing spin in national and global news. He’s editor of OnlineColumnist.com and author of Dodging The Bullet and Operation Charisma.