With Michael Jackson’s sudden death yesterday at 50 have come swirls of rumors about prescription medications he was taking for dancing related injuries. And if toxicology tests show over-medication being a substantial cause of death, that leads to the inevitable questions regarding potential medical malpractice as well as potential criminal liability.
So these are the issues and questions that would/should float about if those rumors prove accurate:
1. Were the medications all provided by a single doctor? If the self-proclaimed King of Pop was getting all the medication from one place, then the prescribing doctor ought to have a good lawyer due to issues of criminal prosecution (possible but unlikely), action against the medical license (much higher probability) and civil suit (discussed below).
2. If there was more than one doctor, did they know about each other and what the other was prescribing?
3. Did all the drugs all come from one pharmacy? Did that pharmacy have an internal system to tickle the pharmacist if there is an inordinate amount of medication going to one person or that some of the drugs are contraindicated given the other meds? If so, did that pharmacist make a call to the doctor(s) issuing the prescriptions?
4. Where were the prescriptions written and filled? This would be a jurisdictional issue that could be particularly important for a pharmacist, who may have immunity if s/he simply followed the doctor’s orders. There is no way to know at the moment if the drugs were prescribed, or even filled, in the U.S. given that Jackson spent a substantial amount of time overseas.
5. Who has standing to bring such a suit? That is a two-part question, as his personal property may be governed by an executor or administrator. But he also has three kids that are all minors and need a legal guardian. Will the mother of two of them, who reportedly gave up legal rights to the kids, be seeking that position in a fight with family members? (This also assumes proper paternity.)
6. From the point of a medical malpractice suit, does it even matter? Jackson was allegedly in debt to the tune of over $300 million, though I suspect a forensic accounting may take some time. But if this was the case of one or two doctors/pharmacists, then there would likely not be much more than a million dollar (or two) insurance policy. When you are that steeply in hock, a malpractice suit may be too insignificant to matter (assuming a limited insurance policy). The estate’s executor and creditors may be unlikely to have an interest, concentrating on the big picture.
7. You can toss out #6 above if the investigating authorities make a slam-dunk decision on liability. That makes a lawsuit easy, and no one would give up an easy million if it were there.
8. In a wrongful death suit, by contrast, the losses suffered by the children would likely go directly to them, bypassing the estate. And if the estate itself is bankrupt, then the kids might actually need the money depending on how Jackson managed his affairs and the nature of any trusts he did (or did not) set up for his children. You’d like to think he was a savvy music mogul, but if he also saw himself as a forever young child, then estate planning could well be something he put off for the future. No one really likes to make decisions about their death, least of all someone with a child’s view of the world.
Best guess from my perch in the cheap seats:
A. Criminal liability is the big concern if there was one doctor prescribing a bucket load of drugs to Jackson without having the nerve to cut off the famous patient. While prosecutors don’t generally bring these kinds of actions, they also don’t usually deal with such a high profile figure. That could alter the decision-making process of prosecutors. That doctor would also have separate licensing concerns.
B. Civil liability in a medical malpractice suit on behalf of the estate is not likely to garner much of a return relative to the debt. It only comes if authorities find an easy case against someone.
C. The kids will pursue a wrongful death case (via their guardian, whoever it may be) only if: Jackson failed to provide for them; there is little left in the estate after the creditors tear it to pieces; and the case is an easy one.
- LAPD ‘searching for Michael Jackson doctor’ (TimesOnline)
(Top photo courtesy of Rolling Stone, with more here. Headline from Extra, Rio de Janeiro)
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why the michael jackson wrongful death lawsuit may be worthless….
well, it hasn’t been filed yet, but there’s no doubt its coming– a wrongful death lawsuit by the estate of michael jackson. some lawyers are calling it the “mother of all medical malpractice lawsuits.” …posted by firstname.lastname@example.org (Blog Author)15999 @ July 28, 2009 9:00 AM
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if you have any suggestions for links, send me an email, i’m all ears. maryland specific links are at the bottom: the new york times reports that general motors will continue to have responsibility for products liability lawsuits filed …posted by @ June 30, 2009 9:53 AM
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What about the issues of whether and if so to what extent the over-medicated deceased knowingly, purposefully and willingly ingested the medication? Are you suggesting these could not be issues? I think they would loom throughout any trial.
# posted by Anonymous John M. Hochfelder, Esq. : June 26, 2009 1:16 PM
Sure those could be questions. But they, in turn, revert back to the doctor(s) regarding what Jackson was told about the meds he was taking.
My gut call, due in large part to the limited recovery relative to the mess he left behind, is that there is no suit unless it is a straightforward matter.
# posted by Blogger Eric Turkewitz : June 26, 2009 1:24 PM
It’s interesting how fingers immediately pointed to Michael Jackson’s cardiologist, yet now the cardiologist vehemently denies the medication contributed to his death. Another interesting point is even if there is a case against Jackson, does he have the money to pay a verdict? Probably, but just a thought — I’m sure he was planning on going back on tour because he needed the money.
# posted by Anonymous Matt Passen : June 30, 2009 10:05 AM
There are certainly questions and issues surrounding the doctors, pharmacists, etc. However, another element (non-medical) that needs be considered is the tremedous pressure he was under to make money to help get out from under his debt to Sony. Sony has a lot to gain by his death (see http://www.dailymail.com) and they had been at odds for a few years, and yet, the very day he dies they post a lovely, long letter honoring him. That sounds fishy to me.
# posted by Anonymous Anonymous : July 08, 2009 3:22 AM
It’s a tragedy what happened to this beloved pop star. It’s horrible that a doctor’s malpractice helped to cause his death. HE WILL BE GREATLY MISSED! This will not be forgotten. It’s sick what some human beings are capable of.
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I can imagine how the “money” will continue to haunt Jackson despite his death. Just as it was impossible to discern people’s motives during his life, now all the vultures are coming out of the trees for a piece of the Jackson pie. I’m not saying that some of it isn’t justified and completely warranted, but a lot of it won’t be and that’s a shame.