The wrongful death civil lawsuit filed by Michael Jackson’s mother and three children is approaching trial, and a significant legal issue to be decided before it begins is whether certain expert witnesses will be allowed to testify. The lawsuit, filed against Jackson’s promotion company AEG, alleges that the King of Pop’s controllers negligently hired and supervised Dr. Conrad Murray, allowing him to provide the substandard care that ultimately resulted in Jackson’s death. Among other issues, defense attorneys for AEG have taken to task two expert witnesses used by the Jackson family to establish both the claim of negligence and the money value requested in the suit.
Medical Care Expert
One expert witness under question by AEG is Dr. Gordon Matheson, a Stanford professor of sports medicine, who testified in his deposition that financial conflicts of interest can, and do, affect medical care decisions. Although he was not involved in the circumstances of Jackson’s death, Dr. Matheson’s testimony will seek to explain the facts of the case in the context of his expert knowledge on how doctors are influenced by financial awards to help create an argument of impropriety on the party of AEG. Using Dr. Matheson as an expert witness, the plaintiffs hope to build the argument that Dr. Murray’s medical decision-making was improperly influenced by AEG’s money – leading to the malpractice that caused Jackson’s death.
AEG has objected to Dr. Matheson because he is a sports medicine professor who specializes in ethics, and because he is not a party with knowledge of the relationship between AEG and Dr. Murray. On its face this is a fair objection, and it would not be surprising should Dr. Matheson be excluded from the trial; however, expert witnesses do not need to have knowledge of all the details of a case or have their expertise align with every aspect of a trial.
AEG will not be found liable for Dr. Murray’s fatal malpractice without a complete analysis of the situation, and of all the factors that could have contributed to the substandard care Michael received. It is true that Dr. Matheson cannot speak from a medical practitioner’s perspective, but if he is qualified to speak to how doctors are influenced by deep-pocketed benefactors whose interests do not necessarily align with patients, then he can be called upon to provide a piece of the puzzle.
Another objectionable witness is accountant Arthur Erk who the Jackson family intend to use in order to project that Jackson’s upcoming Las Vegas tour would net a staggering $269 million, and clothing sales would net $50 million more. AEG disputes these numbers as a “hope and dream” rather than a basis for damages, and looks to disqualify Erk on that basis. Whether or not AEG will be successful in this challenge will likely require a full analysis of both Erk’s qualifications and his methodology for arriving at those numbers.
Expert witnesses can be challenged if opposing counsel shows the expert did not rely on sound methodology when providing testimony, and AEG will look to pick apart Erk’s projections in order to reduce its potential liability to the Jackson family. This challenge is relatively unsurprising – Erk’s figures are astronomical and AEG’s attorneys have the responsibility to save its clients’ money should the company be found liable.
The Jackson family plaintiffs intend to use these two experts to help craft an argument that AEG is not only liable for the singer’s death, but on the hook for a considerable sum of money. Whether they are qualified is up to a judge, but even if they pass muster, it is not the end of the story. Expert witnesses are used to create an argument, but they are not impervious to criticism, and their conclusions can be challenged on the stand by opposing attorneys. Both Dr. Matheson and Mr. Erk appear to be vulnerable as experts, and whether or not these flaws disqualify them or simply expose them to challenges on the stand will remain to be seen.