A Precedent Set
By Charles Karel Bouley II
"If it were anyone other than Michael Jackson, this would have never gotten to trial..." seemed to be the mantra from the defense team in the Conrad Murray criminal trial for his role in the death of Michael Jackson.
Maybe that is true. And maybe that will change.
In 2001 I began my journey in the arena of wrongful death lawsuits, filing one on behalf of my late partner Andrew Howard.
When he died, I truly felt someone was negligent, not financially, but criminally. I know so many of those that lose loved ones to medical mistakes feel the same, as I have spoken with so many through the years and through my journey. Yet, that's not how medical mistakes are typically handled; they are a matter for insurance and lawyers, not police and jails.
It's odd to survivors of medical mistakes or those who have lost loved ones to them; because to them, dead or injured is the same whether it was a drunk driver or a doctor whose negligence inflicted the harm. But somehow the law makes an exception because of the nobility of the medical practice; most doctors, unless they go WAAAAY beyond the pale, pay their way out of killing or harming people.
Dr. Conrad Murray went beyond that pale.
And instead of his case being an exception, maybe it should be more the rule. If your negligence directly results in the death of another, and then you try to cover it up, you should be tried criminally. I fought the wrongful death suit for six years, and over that time learned quite a bit about them. 98% of them fail. Of the ones that make it to trial, most settle on the side for the doctors. As my lawyer said, "in the jury room, most jurors want to believe their doctor wouldn't make a mistake, so they side with them out of allegiance to the profession and hope that theirs won't mess up."
And they are expensive. In other words, most doctors get to walk away from malpractice and negligence because A: finding a lawyer to take the case on contingency is nearly impossible; B: most of the cases never go to trial; and C: If they do, juries often side with the doctors.
That leaves many out in the cold, never getting any kind of justice for the loss they or their loved ones have suffered. They can't get satisfaction through the courts, and the police simply don't get involved.
This time they got involved. And they should more.
I know Janet Jackson was screaming today when she heard the judge say, no bail, go directly to jail, you are a convicted felon and the public may be at risk with you around; when she saw handcuffs put on him and saw him perp walked back in to lockup. I know Kathryne and Prince, Paris and Blanket will sleep better tonight, LaToya, all of them. Whichever one it was in the courtroom that was shushed as they read out the guilty verdict... they are happy.
And more families need that. And more doctors need to know it can happen. If you take great risks, become negligent, performs surgeries while impaired... on and on, then it could cost you more than an insurance increase. If you get greedy and do things outside the standard of care, it can cost you more than money.
That's the point. Medical mistakes cost the families involved more than money, so why is money their only recourse, and a faint one at that?
When anyone's negligence causes someone else to die -- white coat, stethoscope or not -- there must be repercussions.
Dr. Murray may end up under house arrest. If he gets the maximum, four years, it's already cut to 18 months due to jail overcrowding. All nonviolent felons in California are being transferred out of the state system and in to the county's to ease overcrowding on a state wide level. And in L.A. County there is a house arrest policy in place and good lawyering could end up getting it for him. If he had sexually molested Michael while alive, he could go to jail for thrice that time, or if he had sold him a pound or two of pot, much, much longer. But kill him, and you may get house arrest.
It's still not the most just, but it's better than nothing, and better than a check. The Jackson family didn't need a check from Conrad Murray's malpractice insurance company. They needed to know the man that put their relative in to a near coma then left him alone and lied about it all was going to pay.
And so he is. And more should.
Because everyone is a star, a superstar, in their own universe, and each family deserves this satisfaction.