Fresh off the news ticker this morning is that Michael Jackson’s mother Katherine Jackson has brought a wrongful death action against concert promoter AEG. on behalf of Jackson’s three children. According to the article, the promoter was negligent in allowing Dr. Conrad Murray to care exclusively for Jackson.
The merits of that argument will rely, no doubt, on some contractual provisions between the promoter and Jackson dealing with his health. Those who give on the spot opinions as to whether the suit is good or not, without knowing what those contracts say, will likely be speaking in a vacuum.
But that doesn’t mean that the commentariat can’t engage in issue identification to see where potential problems may arise.
While at first blush the mixing of contract law and tort law (negligence) might sound unusual, this actually happens with some frequency when hospitals are sued regarding their liability for doctors that work at the hospitals. Some are employees, and some are independent contractors. Depending on the state you are in, it will likely depend on the written contract as well as whether the impression was given to the patient that the doctor was an employee. So that is how contracts and torts may mix, but the Jackson case is clearly unusual in that he was outside the hospital, and depending possibly on who was paying Dr. Murray.
I’ve written about the potential for such a wrongful death suit before, so I’m not going to re-invent the wheel. Below are my prior posts and ruminations, with the top one looking at not only the employment angle, but also the difficulty in calculating the loss.
On the one hand, the estate has reaped spectacular sums of money with Jackson’s early demise, as so often happens with celebrity death. So wouldn’t that offset any recovery from AEG, if such recovery were possible, rendering the suit moot? Perhaps not. In New York, the damages are fixed at the time of death. What happens after death doesn’t count. But if the future profits were foreseeable, then perhaps part or all of that money should be used to offset any recovery?
This is gonna be one funky case when it comes to calculating damages, worthy of being a law exam question. And it’s even more unusual because the kids likely don’t need any of the money
And what of a malpractice suit against Dr. Murray? It would likely yield little (unless he had some kind of extraordinary malpractice policy just for Jackson), under the well-known legal principle that you can’t get blood from a stone. The article doesn’t say if Murray was sued, but if not, the promoter may start a third-party action, point the finger at him, and say “look over there!” Or they may simply point at the empty chair and ask a jury why the obvious culprit wasn’t sued.
Other legal action related to this: Jackson’s father Joe Jackson has brought his own wrongful death suit. And Dr. Murray is facing charges manslaughter charges. Prosecuting doctors for manslaughter is not unprecedented, but as one of my guest bloggers previously wrote, it is quite rare.
My prior posts on the subject:
Michael Jackson’s Mom To Start Wrongful Death Action Against Concert Promoter? (February 11, 2009)
Michael Jackson: Malpractice or Manslaughter (Or Something Else)? (August 16, 2009)
Michael Jackson: The Mother of All Malpractice Suits? (August 6,2009, one day after death)