Dr. Conrad Murray Case Highlights Criminal vs. Civil Medical Malpractice Issues

Many San Diego wrongful death lawyers will be watching the legal battles of Dr. Conrad Murray, doctor of the late pop-star Michael Jackson, even more closely in the coming year. Dr. Murray was found guilty of involuntary manslaughter on November 7 in a criminal trial that caught the world’s attention. After hearing the verdict, the pop-star’s father, Joe Jackson, told waiting crowds, “There’s more.” pills.jpg

Two California wrongful death lawsuits have already been filed, one each by Mr. Jackson’s parents and also on behalf of his three children, against Dr. Murray and the company behind Michael Jackson’s final “This is It” tour, AEG Live LLC. On November 9, a Los Angeles judge ruled that the civil suits can move forward, so Dr. Murray’s court battles are by no means over. Under California tort law, a criminal verdict can be used as evidence in a civil trial. Also, the burden of proof in a civil trial is lower than in a criminal trial. A prosecutor has to show the defendant committed the crime “beyond a reasonable doubt,” which is a difficult standard to meet. In a civil case, the plaintiff need only show responsibility by a “preponderance of the evidence,” which in layman’s terms means it is more than 50% likely that the defendant is responsible. Also, evidence laws are more lenient in civil cases than criminal, meaning that evidence excluded from the criminal trial may be used in the upcoming civil cases.

The end result of these actions is hard to guess at this point, even for San Diego medical malpractice lawyers. AEG’s responsibility will likely depend on the specific wording of the contracts involved and also the nature of the company’s ties to Dr. Murray. With the appeal of his criminal verdict pending, Dr. Murray may also wish to avoid further court battles and the accompanying media frenzy by settling the suit out of court. It is unclear at this point what kind of medical malpractice insurance he may have, as well.

While the media attention focused on the death of an international superstar like Michael Jackson may seem unrelated to the lives of average Californians, the National Safety Council estimates that over a hundred thousand families lose a loved one to a preventable accidental death each year. And wrongful deaths alleged through medical negligence are very complex cases regardless of whether the victim is famous or not. There are specific rules on who may file these types of civil suits. There are also deadlines as to how long after the death of a loved one a California wrongful death lawsuit may be filed—generally up to a year after the death for a medical malpractice claim. But the varying timelines and rules depending on the type of wrongful death alleged and what type of defendant is being implicated, along with the complex nature of these cases that often involve expert testimony, mean that it is very important to consult a San Diego wrongful death lawyer. These professionals can answer any questions you have about filing a wrongful death lawsuit. Because of the short deadlines for filing such cases, if you have suffered the loss of a loved one in what you believe was a preventable accident or through medical negligence, please seek legal advice from an experienced medical malpractice and wrongful death lawyer as soon as possible.

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