The Michael Jackson Wrongful Death Case – Messy Aftermath
This past October, the jury in Michael Jackson’s wrongful death lawsuit found no liability on the part of the defendant AEG Live. But that didn’t end the legal proceedings. Appeals have been filed, and Plaintiffs are disputing the size of Defendant’s $900,000 cost bill.
As prevailing party, Defendant is entitled to its reasonable costs incurred in defending the suit. Multiple appeals and a motion for a new trial have followed the verdict. Defense attorneys have submitted a bill for the costs are hiring experts, preparing trial exhibits, and taking depositions. The cost bill does not include attorney’s fees, which are generally borne by each side.
Plaintiffs are arguing the costs are excessive.
The defense firm spent $540,000 on “models, blowups and photocopies of exhibits.” A single exhibit by forensic accountant William R. Ackerman is billed at $117,000. A key issue at trial was whether the late singer’s potential future earnings might outweigh his estimated $400 million debt. Another large cost item that Plaintiffs object to is the $128,000 paid to Pamela Radford, in-court trial technician.
The trial judge has discretion in granting costs that are necessary to the conduct of the litigation. Given the huge stakes in the case, a $117,000 exhibit is not necessarily excessive. The judge will weigh the necessity for the exhibit, its impact, and whether the same point could have been done less expensively.
While the amount of costs might be unusually large, so too were the damages being sought at trial. Jackson lead lawyer Brian Panish told the jury to award a range between $1 billion and $2 billion to replace the earnings lost by Jackson’s death and the non-economic damages from the loss of a father and son.
Jackson’s family sued AEG in 2010, alleging it negligently hired and supervised Dr. Conrad Murray. Murray was convicted in criminal court of involuntary manslaughter for administering a lethal dose of Propofol to Jackson on the eve of his comeback world tour. Jurors in October found Defendant AEG Live not liable, finding that the entertainment company owed nothing to Plaintiffs. Plaintiff’s firm invested a large amount in the losing trial, which took five months of trial time.
This dispute highlights the extraordinary costs of prosecuting and defending high-profile civil lawsuits, and the risks that plaintiff’s attorneys take in filing such suits.
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[posted on blog 12/27/13]