UPDATE 7-Jury clears promoter of liability in Michael Jackson's death

Reuters

(Corrects juror name to Gregg Barden from Greg Barden, 9thparagraph)

By Eric Kelsey and Dana Feldman

LOS ANGELES, Oct 2 (Reuters) - A Los Angeles jury clearedconcert promoter AEG Live of liability on Wednesday in awrongful death lawsuit brought by the family of Michael Jackson,in a trial that offered a glimpse into the private life andfinal days of the so-called King of Pop.

The verdict, which concluded that the doctor the companyhired to care for the singer was not unfit for his job, capped asensational five-month trial that was expected to shake up theway entertainment companies treat their most risky talent.

"The jury's decision completely vindicates AEG Live,confirming what we have known from the start - that althoughMichael Jackson's death was a terrible tragedy, it was not atragedy of AEG Live's making," defense attorney Marvin Putnamsaid in a statement following the verdict.

Putnam, who was heckled by Jackson supporters outside thecourthouse, said after the trial that AEG Live had neverconsidered settling the case out of court.

Still, the case sent shock waves through the music industry,with concert promoters as well as well-known entertainmentinsurers expected to beef up policies for acts they insure andpotentially raise some prices.

Jackson's 83-year-old mother, Katherine, and his threechildren sued AEG Live over the singer's 2009 death at age 50 inLos Angeles from an overdose of the surgical anestheticpropofol.

The Jackson family claimed in its lawsuit that AEG Live, theconcert division of privately held Anschutz Entertainment Group,negligently hired Conrad Murray as Jackson's personal physicianand ignored signs that the "Thriller" singer was in poor healthprior to his death.

The family matriarch was in court for the verdict, whichcame on the fourth day of deliberations, and appeared to beemotional as it was read, lifting her glasses to wipe at hereyes. She smiled briefly as she left the courtroom.

MURRAY WAS 'COMPETENT'

In explaining the verdict outside court, jury foreman GreggBarden said jurors had concluded that Murray was competent forthe job he was hired to do.

"We felt he was competent to do the job of generalpractitioner," said Barden, who works for the Los AngelesUnified School District. "Now that doesn't mean that we thoughthe was ethical, and maybe had the word ethical been in thequestion, it could have been a different outcome."

Juror Kevin Smith, 61, who works for Los Angeles CountyDepartment of Public Works, added: "If AEG had known what wasgoing on behind closed doors it would probably have made a worldof difference, but they didn't."

Murray, who was caring for Jackson as the singer rehearsedfor his series of 50 comeback "This Is It" concerts, wasconvicted of involuntary manslaughter in 2011 for administeringthe propofol that killed the star. He is in a California prisonand is expected to be released later this month.

Jackson family lawyer Kevin Boyle said outside court thatattorneys and the family were "of course not happy" withWednesday's verdict.

"We will be exploring all options, legally and factually,"Boyle said.

Jackson fan Julia Thomas, who has been at the courthouseevery day for the past five months, said she thought the jurorsdid not properly understand the second question on the verdictform, which asked if Murray was "unfit or incompetent to performthe work for which he was hired."

"Most of us are shocked," Thomas said. "It's almost like adream. I think the question went way over their heads. I thinkit was a trick question."

FAMILY SOUGHT $1 BILLION IN DAMAGES

Jackson family lawyers had suggested in closing argumentsthat damages could exceed $1 billion if AEG Live was foundliable. AEG Live had argued that it was Jackson who chose Murrayas his physician and that it negotiated with the singer to payMurray $150,000 per month, but only at Jackson's request.

University of Southern California law professor Jody Armoursaid that the plaintiff's argument that AEG Live disregardedJackson's health in their pursuit of profits did not persuadethe jury.

"The jury decided the case on the notions of personalresponsibility, and concluded that Michael Jackson had someresponsibility in picking Murray and creating the circumstancessurrounding his own death," Armour said.

Several relatives of Jackson testified during the trial,including his mother, eldest son Prince and ex-wife Debbie Rowe.

Rowe, who was married to Jackson from 1996 to 1999, told thecourt that doctors had competed for Jackson's business and tookadvantage of the singer's fear of pain by giving himhigh-powered pain killers.

Rowe said she first grew concerned about Jackson'sprescription drug use in the early 1990s after he underwentsurgery on his scalp and that she saw the singer use propofol tosleep as early as 1997.

PERSONAL LIVES, LEGAL HEADACHES

Following the case, there also may be some changes in storefor the entertainment industry as concert promoters andproducers move to insulate themselves legally from stars theywork with.

"The thing that is really going to change is theboiler-plate and liability waivers in contracts," said GaryBongiovanni, editor of concert industry trade magazine Pollstar."When contracts are written, they're going to be a little moreclear."

Jay Gendron, a professor at Southwestern Law School in LosAngeles and former legal affairs executive with Warner Bros filmstudio, said employers must draw a line in the sand with starswhose personal lives may later become legal headaches.

"At a certain point you just have to say, 'No,' because therisk is too high," Gendron said. "You have to look at yourbusiness template and ask, 'Is this something we're willing torisk?'"

Although AEG Live came out a legal victor, the trial didgive the company a black eye, said Rich Tullo, the director ofresearch at Albert Fried and Co who follows AEG Live's maincompetitor, Live Nation Entertainment Inc.

"I really kind of think this (trial) in the long-termbenefits Live Nation with the artists," Tullo said.

"This is a people business and this is a bad people thing.Even if this is the doctor Michael Jackson wanted them to hire.... Just from the optics of it, it looks awful," Tullo added.

"Where it could benefit Live Nation is in a 5 to 10 percentmarket share increase," he said. (Additional reporting by Steve Gorman, Piya Sinha-Roy, AlexDobuzinskis and Dan Whitcomb; Writing by Dan Whitcomb and EricKelsey; Editing by Cynthia Johnston, Bob Burgdorfer and LisaShumaker)

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