The Michael Jackson wrongful death trial is yet another serious court case with a dual status as hot celebrity entertainment. The case is fascinating and newsworthy; but take away the deceased star, the high profile attorneys, and the media hype, and you’ll find that it’s no different from any other situation where a wrongful death is alleged.
If you’ve watched the trial or paid attention to the news reports, you probably learned a few things about protecting your rights when a loved one dies under suspicious circumstances.
Find an attorney immediately
When something bad happens, stars and their families often have attorneys just a phone call away. They act quickly to protect the family and preserve their legal rights. The urgency increases if the situation involves a legal issue, especially a fatality.
Why the urgency? As time goes by, evidence gets lost. Witnesses disappear. Facts get jumbled. The faster the facts are confirmed and documented, the better chance there is of proving a case in court. For example, within days of Michael Jackson’s death, the family arranged a private autopsy– in addition to the coroner’s procedure– to help them figure out exactly what happened and decide what to do next.
Make sure your attorney has a strong track record
Speed is important when you’re trying to protect your legal rights, especially in the case of a fatality. It’s not necessary to keep a high profile attorney on retainer; but you should know how to find the right attorney when you need one.
Ask your family attorney for a recommendation. Ask a friend if they know someone who has successfully handled wrongful death cases in the past. Check with your local Bar Association for a referral, but before you sign a representation agreement, ask a few questions. Make sure the law firm you choose has a history that includes investigating, settling and/or trying wrongful death cases.
Know that things can get really complicated
The wrongful death case presented by the Jackson family’s attorneys involved evidence related to multiple medications, criminal medical malpractice, contractual responsibilities, a superstar, a concert promoter, a career comeback, and many other unusual elements. The wrongful death case you present on behalf of your loved one might not be interesting enough to draw media attention, but it will probably be equally complicated.
No matter how experienced a trial attorney is, he won’t win a wrongful death law suit by simply presenting a theory of negligence. He must produce enough evidence to back up any allegations made. He must show that the case has value.
The evidence he produces to prove a case might include medical bills, projected earnings data, contracts, accident analysis, relevant laws, employer intentional torts, coroner findings, and expert testimony. He may have to reveal personal family details to prove the value of the case.
Your case could take years to be heard
Michael Jackson died on June 25, 2009. It has taken over four years for the jury trial. Unfortunately your loved one’s case could take just as long, if not longer.
A wrongful death case can be a waiting game. The evidence is usually complicated and extensive. Sorting out liability and medical issues can be time consuming. After a suit is filed, it takes additional time to prepare for trial.
The judge sets a schedule for formal presentation of evidence. Attorneys must produce expert and medical reports, depose key witnesses, and conduct days of formal discovery. Both sides must participate in hearings and conferences before a judge approves a case for trial. Then the judge has to fit the trial into a schedule that’s probably already packed with other cases.
It’s a long road
When a loved one dies due to someone else’s negligence, it can take years for a day in court. Even then, the outcome may be unpredictable. Still your chances of success are stronger when you have a wrongful death attorney protecting your legal rights from day one.