On Monday April 29, 2013, the wrongful death civil lawsuit between Michael Jackson’s family and Anschutz Entertainment Group (AEG) will commence. The five allegations in the complaint include two employment related claims: negligent hiring of Dr. Conrad Murray, and respondeat superior. Both claims will be tough for the Jackson family to prove.
Respondeat superior law holds employers liable for acts by their employees during the course of their employment. Negligent hiring under California law requires the Jackson family to show a history of malfeasance by Dr. Conrad Murray, the doctor found guilty of involuntary manslaughter against Michael Jackson, prior to AEG hiring and AEG’s disregard for that history or failure to research Dr. Conrad’s Murray.
The problem for Jackson’s family under both claims is proving that Dr. Murray was an employee rather than an independent contractor. To support an employment relationship, the Jackson family points to a contractual agreement between Dr. Murray and AEG. Unfortunately they failed to provide any language from the agreement explicitly asserting such relationship. In fact, the presumptions in agreement with professionals is that the professional is retained as an independent contractor because he or she has the expertise to complete the service required and will not use the company’s resources in rendering services. The complaint did, however, allege that AEG was responsible for providing certain medical equipment for Dr. Murray and failed to do so. The family will have to show that the lack of equipment contributed to Jackson’s demise.
Another difficulty in imputing Jackson’s death on AEG is it ignores Jackson’s ability and responsibility to maintain his health. Jackson’s family asserts that he ignored his health to avoid financial hardship, but it may be tough to prove that a celebrity with Jackson’s worth could face destitution by putting his health before his obligations under the contractual agreement. Furthermore, the portrait of Michael Jackson as an addict to pain medication with a big family that either failed to intervene or failed to convince him to seek help may prove difficult to overcome.