The Los Angeles Criminal Law Blog

Jackson Wrongful Death Suit: Criminal and Civil Liability for Homicides?

With the recent guilty verdict in the Conrad Murray trial, you may have thought the saga over Michael Jackson's death was over. But in addition to criminal actions against defendants, the victim's families and significant others also have the option to pursue civil remedies against those they believe caused their loved one's death.

Soon after Murray's verdict was read, Jackson's family announced their intention to file lawsuits against entertainment giant Anschutz Entertainment Group (AEG) and Murray, reports the Los Angeles Times.

Typically, wrongful death claims are brought by the estate of a person who was killed due to the fault of another. In addition, the surviving family members usually need to be suffering a monetary injury as a result of their loved one's death. OJ Simpson is probably the most famous defendant to have both a murder trial and a wrongful death trial held against him.

The wrongful death suit against AEG stems from the Jackson family's belief that the corporation forced Jackson to perform despite his weak health condition, coercing him with threats of lawsuits and the end of his career if he didn't continue plans for his world-wide tour. Instead of upholding their duty "to treat him safely and to not put him in harm's way," AEG allegedly breached those duties by contracting with Murray to convince him he was healthy enough to perform.

Although Jackson's father has also filed a wrongful death suit against Murray, the family's main claim against the wealthy corporation is probably no accident. Civil suits often target more financially well-endowed defendants with deep pockets.

While wrongful death suits offer monetary results rather than criminal punishment, they also have a much lower standard of proof than the criminal standard of guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. The Jackson family's attorneys will only have to prove by a preponderance of the evidence that AEG or Murray wrongfully caused Jackson's death.

There will also be a lot more evidence introduced in the civil trial, such as the King of Pop's financial problems and his drug addictions.

"Generally in civil court, the range of issues to be decided is far broader than they ever are in a criminal case; and that means a lot more evidence comes in," said David M. Ring, a Los Angeles attorney. "Instead of just looking in the closet, you are looking in the whole house."

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