Jackson damages claim 'absurd', court told

LOS ANGELES - The promoters of Michael Jackson's doomed last tour slammed as "absurd" Wednesday a massive claim by his family for damages over the star's 2009 death, at the climax of a five-month trial.

Making his closing argument, a lawyer for AEG Live said the promoter would never have funded the "This Is It" tour if it knew the star was playing "Russian roulette" with his own life by abusing drugs.

On Tuesday, the Jackson family's lawyer, closing his own case in a Los Angeles courtroom, proposed a figure of US$290 million (S$362 million) for non-economic damages, as well as an unspecified sum for economic damages.

Jackson lawyer Brian Panish cited accountants' analyses of Jackson's potential future earnings of between about US$900 million and US$1.6 billion, but said the jury would have to decide its own figure. AEG Live's attorney Marvin Putnam said Wednesday a claim on such scale was ridiculous.

"Their dollar amount is US$1.5 billion dollars. They kinda rushed through that," he said, referring to the studies cited by Panish the previous day, including in slides shown in court.

"I'm sorry, that's an absurd number. And they haven't even remotely proved it."

Jackson, 50, died on June 25, 2009 from an overdose of the anesthetic propofol at his rented mansion in Los Angeles, where he was rehearsing for the "This is It" shows at London's 02 Arena.

Dr Conrad Murray, a cardiologist, was convicted of involuntary manslaughter in a criminal trial in 2011 for giving the drug to the star - who suffered from chronic insomnia - to help him sleep. Murray was jailed for four years.

In the civil trial, the singer's mother Katherine Jackson, 83, alleges that AEG Live negligently hired an inappropriate and incompetent doctor and missed a series of red flags about his failing health in the run-up to his death.

But the promoter's lawyer said Wednesday that AEG Live never actually hired Murray, who it noted had treated Jackson and his children over several years.

"You can't negligently hire someone unless you hire them," said Putnam, adding: "The evidence is very clear that Michael Jackson was the one who hired Dr Murray."

Referring to the nightly propofol infusions given to Jackson by Murray, the lawyer said: "AEG never would have agreed to finance this tour if it knew that Mr Jackson was playing Russian roulette in his bedroom every night."

Putnam said Jackson's drug abuse had started years before the "This is It" tour - and that choosing Dr Murray was entirely his own responsibility.

"He had been an opioid addict for a long time. He had become very good at manipulating doctors, he said.

The "This is It" tour was Jackson's bid at a comeback four years after his infamous child molestation trial. He was acquitted, but his image was destroyed, and he desperate needed to make money. Putnam dismissed the Jackson camp's damages figures as "speculation and guesswork," based on the unlikely premise that the star could keep touring until the age of 66.

In addition he claimed that Jackson, known for his lavish lifestyle over the decades, was well over US$400 million in debt at the time of his death.

"Mr Jackson was broke. He was in a huge hole. He was on the verge of bankruptcy .. it's difficult to see how Mr Jackson could have got himself out of that hole," he added.

Katherine Jackson, who was in court again on Wednesday after attending regularly throughout the trial, is taking the legal action on her behalf and that of Jackson's three children: 16-year-old Prince, Paris, 15, and 11-year-old "Blanket."

On Thursday Jackson lawyer Panish is expected to have one last chance to respond to his rival's closing argument, before the jury retires to consider its verdict.