LOS ANGELES (CNN) — A judge rejected AEG Live’s request that she dismiss the Michael Jackson wrongful death lawsuit, but two executives were dropped as individual defendants on Monday, a ruling that had each side claiming a measure of victory.
The trial, which is in its fifth month in a Los Angeles courtroom, is expected to conclude with closing arguments as soon as next week.
But before AEG Live lawyers rest their defense case on September 16, they may call Michael Jackson’s mother back to the witness stand, attorney Marvin Putnam said.
A decision will be made on the need for more testimony from Katherine Jackson after the judge rules on several issues regarding possible damages on Wednesday, Putnam said.
The Jackson family matriarch delivered two days of dramatic testimony in July, which included a heated cross examination by Putnam.
“She was trying to answer the questions the best she could,” Jackson lawyer Brian Panish said after she left the stand. “I think maybe she lost her temper a little bit and she tried to restrain herself in a very Christian-like way.”
Jackson’s 83-year-old mother and three children accuse AEG Live of negligently hiring, retaining or supervising Dr. Conrad Murray, the physician convicted of involuntary manslaughter in the pop icon’s death. The company’s executives missed several warning signs that Jackson’s health was deteriorating under Murray’s care, they contend.
AEG Live argues that Jackson, not its executives, chose and controlled Murray.
Judge: Jurors will decide the case
Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Yvette Palazuelos ruled on Monday that the case against AEG Live will be sent to the jury. The company had filed a “nonsuit motion” that argued the Jacksons failed to present enough evidence to warrant jury deliberations.
“Substantial evidence has been presented at trial from which a jury can reasonably infer that defendants (AEG Live) knew or should have known that Dr. Murray presented an undue risk of harm to decedent (Jackson),” she said in her ruling.
AEG Live lawyers contend that their executives had no way of knowing about the dangerous — and ultimately fatal — infusions of the surgical anesthetic propofol the doctor was using to treat the singer’s insomnia. The coroner ruled Jackson died of a propofol overdose on June 25, 2009 — just days away from the premiere of his “This It It” tour in London.
The judge also ruled that the Jacksons “presented substantial evidence” that AEG Live’s “conduct was a substantial factor in causing” Jackson’s death.
“A jury may logically infer from the evidence that (Jackson) died because Dr. Murray, who was adversely affected by a conflict of interest created by his contractual arrangement with AEG, treated a deteriorating insomniac who was not ready to perform, causing Dr. Murray to make bad medical decisions that caused (Jackson’s) death,” the judge wrote.
The Jackson case contends AEG Live created a medical conflict of interest by agreeing to pay the debt-ridden Murray $150,000 a month to serve as Jackson’s personal physician. Murray’s agreement said he could lose his job if the tour was postponed or canceled, leading him to make unsafe medical decisions, they argue.
Murray told investigators he treated Jackson with propofol most nights for the last two months of his life. The Jacksons contend the treatments began once AEG Live co-CEO Paul Gongaware agreed in a phone call to Murray’s demands for $150,000 a month.
“The timing of when Dr. Murray ordered propofol is a matter of factual dispute (as to whether that means Dr. Murray used it prior to AEG’s retention of him),” the judge wrote. “The court finds that plaintiffs presented sufficient evidence that Dr. Murray’s treatment of decedent was connected to Murray’s employment by AEG. Therefore defendants’ motion for nonsuit is denied.”
AEG Live execs dropped from suit
AEG Live CEO Randy Phillips and co-CEO Paul Gongaware were dismissed as individual defendants in the case. The two executives in charge of producing and promoting Jackson’s comeback concerts “did not assume personal liability” when dealing with the hiring of Murray, Palazuelos wrote. “Rather, they acted solely as an agent of AEG Live.”
A Jackson lawyer downplayed the significance of the dismissal of the two men as defendants, saying the plaintiffs previously offered to drop them from the case but AEG Live lawyers refused.
Closing arguments could come as soon as September 19, after Jackson lawyers offer several witnesses next week in rebuttal to the AEG Live defense.
Testimony was suspended for this week because a female juror traveled out of the state on an emergency trip to visit a seriously ill close relative, Palazuelos said Monday.
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