A judge in Los Angeles has cleared the way for Michael Jackson's mother and three children to go to trial on claims that the concert promoter for his planned "This Is It" tour was negligent in hiring and supervising Dr. Conrad Murray, the physician convicted of involuntary manslaughter in the singer's 2009 death.
Los Angeles County, Calif., Superior Court Judge Yvette Palazuelos ruled on Feb. 27 that AEG Live LLC and its senior executives failed to prove on summary judgment that they had not hired Murray or that they had no reason to believe he would be an unfit physician. Murray was convicted in 2011 of administering a lethal dose of the anesthetic propofol to Jackson and is serving four years in prison.
"There is a triable issue of fact as to whether it was foreseeable that such a physician under strong financial pressure may compromise his Hippocratic Oath and do what was known by AEG Live's executives to be an unfortunate practice in the entertainment industry for financial gain," Palazuelos wrote in her order, which became public on March 1.
"Triable issues of fact exist as to whether it could have been foreseeable that Dr. Murray would engage in the exact behavior alleged here: Dr. Murray's provision of drugs which led to Decedent's death," she said.
Palazuelos, however, threw out additional claims for breach of contract based on a "special relationship" between AEG and Jackson created when both signed the "This Is It" tour contract. Jackson was hardly in AEG's thrall, she said, citing the promoter's reference to Jackson as "the greatest and most beloved entertainer in the world."
"The court does not necessarily disagree," she wrote. "So, given Decedent's status and experience, exerting strong financial pressure is insufficient alone to create undue risk of harm."
She also agreed with AEG that Murray was not an employee and, as such, could not ensure that Jackson would show up for rehearsals. "Assuming that is true, there is no evidence that Defendants exercised or could exercise any control over how (manner or means) that task was to be accomplished."
A trial on the negligence claim is scheduled for April 2.
"We actually have the cleanest, simplest cause of action for us to prove, which is simply that they were negligent in hiring and retaining, keeping on board, the man who's in prison for killing Michael Jackson," said Kevin Boyle of Panish, Shea & Boyle in Los Angeles, who represents Jackson's heirs.
"I am pleased the court dismissed AEG and Leiweke outright, and dismissed all but one of the remaining claims against the remaining defendants," said Marvin Putnam, a partner at O'Melveny & Myers in Los Angeles who represents the AEG defendants. "Michael Jackson's death was a tragedy, but as Friday's ruling and commonsense make clear, AEG was in no position to save Michael Jackson from his longtime battle with addiction."