Case against Michael Jackson's doctor centers on gross negligence
Michael Jackson's doctor, Conrad Murray, pleaded not guilty to charges of involuntary manslaughter Monday. Legal experts – and doctors – will be watching to see if new standards are set for future cases of alleged medical negligence.
The trial of Michael Jackson’s doctor, who was charged Monday with involuntary manslaughter and who pleaded not guilty, has all the makings of another celebrity courtroom drama. But it could also set standards for future cases of deaths allegedly resulting from doctors administering drugs improperly.Skip to next paragraph
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Dr. Conrad Murray, who was with Jackson when he died June 25 in his Los Angeles home, is accused in the complaint filed Monday of “unlawfully, and without malice,” killing his patient by acting “without due caution and circumspection.” Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Keith L. Schwartz set bail at $75,000.
If convicted, Dr. Murray faces up to four years in prison.
The case against Murray will depend largely on the specifics of the autopsy, which remains sealed, experts say. The complaint contains no details on Jackson’s death. Murray reportedly gave Jackson propofol, a powerful anesthetic, to help him sleep some hours before his death. On Monday, the judge forbade the doctor from prescribing heavy sedatives, including propofol, to his patients.
"Take away the celebrity factor here and physicians will be watching for what is the standard relied on,” says Jessica Levinson, adjunct professor of law at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles, adding that she will be looking for “new or interesting legal frameworks with respect to affirmative defenses for physicians administering medications that can result in death.”
The question of negligence
Central to the case is the question of gross negligence.
The argument for gross negligence and whether Murray "played fast and loose with the requirements for administering propofol, will be the main thrust of the case,” says Robert Pugsley, a professor at Southwestern Law School in Los Angeles.
The charge against Murray appears to be based on the conclusion that his “conduct demonstrated no intent to cause death to his patient, but that his prescribing and administration practices were far worse than breaches of the standard of care, and rose to the level of actionable criminal negligence if not, possibly, reckless conduct,” says Bruce Cranner, member of the Medical Liability Committee of DRI, the largest US civil defense attorney association.