Many of our readers will be familiar with the notion that medical malpractice can lead to a civil lawsuit for damages. In egregious cases however, medical malpractice can also lead to criminal prosecution. The civil and criminal cases against Dr. Conrad Murray illustrate this principle.
Dr. Murray was Michael Jackson's physician in 2009 as the singer rehearsed and trained for his comeback tour. Unfortunately, Michael Jackson's comeback tour never came to fruition as he died of a drug overdose in June 2009. He was 50 years old. Dr. Murray has been at the heart of controversy surrounding Michael Jackson's death and is facing both a civil suit and a criminal prosecution for his actions while Michael Jackson was in his care.
Coroners ruled that Jackson died of an overdose of a combination propofol, a drug used to relieve anxiety and to induce anesthesia, and sedatives including lorazepam. Propofol is most commonly used in hospitals, but Dr. Murray has admitted to giving it to Jackson to help him sleep.
Dr. Murray's attorneys have suggested that Michael Jackson delivered the fatal dose to himself. However, medical experts testified that even if that were true, Dr. Murray still might be responsible because he supplied Jackson with the drug. Deputy District Attorney David Walgren argued, "The standard of care was breached, unfortunately and tragically, over and over again because of Dr. Murray's actions. That is why Michael Jackson is no longer here."
This week, the judge handling a preliminary hearing in the criminal case against Dr. Murray ruled that the prosecution will go forward. Because of this week's ruling, Dr. Murray will stand trial for manslaughter. At the same time, Michael Jackson's family has filed a separate wrongful death lawsuit for damages, which is presently pending in Los Angeles Superior Court. Although there are differing standards of proof in civil and criminal cases, the outcome of the criminal prosecution will likely have a significant influence on how the civil case proceeds.
Source: Westlaw News and Insight, "Michael Jackson doctor ordered to stand trial for manslaughter," Alex Dobuzinskis, Bob Tourtellotte, and Jeff Roberts, 1/12/2011