LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Concert promoters AEG Live ignored red flags when it hired Dr. Conrad Murray to care for Michael Jackson, and should have been aware that the singer had addiction problems years before he agreed to perform a series of 2009 London comeback concerts, an attorney for Jackson’s family told a Los Angeles jury on Monday.
Making his opening statement in what is expected to be an emotional, three-month long civil wrongful death trial, attorney Brian Panish said a combination of factors caused Jackson’s death in June 2009 from an overdose.
“Michael Jackson, Dr. Conrad Murray and AEG Live each played a part in the ultimate result, the death of Michael Jackson,” said Panish who is representing the singer’s family.
The “Thriller” singer’s mother Katherine is suing privately-held AEG Live, promoters of the never-realized series of London concerts, for negligence in hiring Dr. Conrad Murray.
Murray, convicted in 2011 for the involuntary manslaughter of Jackson, was caring for the singer as he rehearsed in Los Angeles for the series of 50 “This is It” shows in London that were due to start in July 2009.
Panish said AEG Live failed to do proper background checks on Murray, who asked for $5 million to care for the singer. Background checks would have revealed Murray was deeply in debt and was a cardiologist even though Jackson had no known heart issues, Panish said.
“`When a red flag comes up, do you turn away or do you look into it?” Panish said. “AEG ignored the obvious red flags and they hired Dr. Murray.”
Katherine Jackson, 82, along with her children Randy and Rebbie, were among family members attending Monday’s packed opening of the trial. Jackson’s three children, who could be called as witnesses later, were not there.
Jackson, drowning in debt and seeking to rebuild a reputation damaged by his 2005 trial and acquittal on child molestation charges, died in Los Angeles of an overdose of the powerful surgical anesthetic propofol, supplied by Murray, and a cocktail of other sedatives in June 2009. The singer was 50 when he died.
Panish said Jackson had known problems with prescription drug addiction dating back to his use of the painkiller Demerol following a burn injury when he was shooting a Pepsi commercial in 1984.
“It was widely publicized Michael was dependent on pain killers,” Panish said, adding that AEG Live should have been aware of the reports.
Jackson in 1993 announced he was canceling a world tour to seek treatment for his painkiller addiction.
AEG Live contends that it did not hire or supervise Murray, saying that a proposed contract with him was never executed. The concert promoters also have said they could not have foreseen that Murray posed a danger to Jackson.
Attorneys for AEG Live will make their opening statements later on Monday.
In the days before the trial began, Panish denied the Jackson family is seeking $40 billion in damages from AEG Live, as some media had reported this month.
The final amount will be determined by the jury should it hold AEG Live liable for negligence.
A handful of Jackson fans gathered outside the court on Monday, saying they were hoping for justice for the “King of Pop.”
Jackson fan Julia Thomas, 40, an office worker from Colton, southern California, said she hoped the trial would demonstrate what she said were the wrongs AEG Live committed against Jackson and the demands they placed on him.
“They’re about to be exposed because they bullied Michael, they stressed him into the grave to the point that he needed sedatives to sleep,” Thomas told Reuters.
Editing by Jill Serjeant, Andrew Hay and David Gregorio