Michael Jackson Wrongful Death Lawsuit may be Worthless

07/29/2009 | Medical Malpractice

Well, it hasn't been filed yet, but there's no doubt its coming-- a wrongful death lawsuit by the Estate of Michael Jackson.  Some lawyers are calling it the "mother of all medical malpractice lawsuits."

Well I say, "not so fast my friends."  The wrongful death lawsuit may be virtually worthless. Here's why.

The primary component of damages that the Jackson Estate would be allowed to claim in a wrongful death suit is the loss of future earning.  This would include concert ticket sales, royalties from albums, and commercial endorsements, any appearance fees, etc.  In fact, Jackson was scheduled to start a 50 show tour later this year.

So, it should be simple to calculate the loss to the Estate, right?  You simply hire an expert economist, an expert promotor, an expert music producer and manager and you have them estimate how much MJ would have earned over his projected lifetime.  That would then be the loss to the Estate and it would then have the right to recover that amount amount from the negligent parties (assuming there are any).

That is would typically happens in wrongful death cases, albeit it on a much smaller scale; however, here, that formula may not work for one simple reason....

Celebrities often make more after their death than when they are alive. Or, to put it another way, Jackson's Estate may INCREASE in value as a result of his death.

For example, according to Forbes Magazine, in 2007 Justin Timberlake pulled in $44 million; Madonna $40 million. Not bad by anyone's standards.  But compare that to Elvis Presley's $52 million and you start to see where I'm going.  Elvis has been dead for 32 years yet his Estate is making more today in one year than he made over his entire career when he was alive.  In fact, Elvis even has his own station on Sirius Radio.  

Every October, Forbes compiles its list of the 13 richest dead celebrities.  In 2008, the ranking were as follows:

The Lucky 13

  1. Elvis Presley ($52 million)
  2. Charles M. Schulz (Peanuts + Snoopy = $33 million)
  3. Heath Ledger ($20 million)
  4. Albert Einstein ($18 million in 2007, think Baby Einstein videos!!!)
  5. Aaron Spelling ($15 million)
  6. Dr. Seuss (Theodor Geisel)($12 million)
  7. John Lennon ($9 million)
  8. Andy Warhol ($9 million)
  9. Marilyn Monroe ($6.5 million)
  10. Steve McQueen ($6 million)
  11. Paul Newman ($5 million)
  12. James Dean ($5 million)
  13. Marvin Gaye ($3.5 million)


This will likely be the case with Jackson's Estate as well.  The "King of Pop" will likely equal or surpass the "KIng of Rock N Roll" in the post-death celebrity earnings category.  Let's face it, when you think Hollywood you think James Dean and Marilyn Monroe, but when you think music, you think of Elvis and Michael.

In fact, according to the Wall Street Journal, it may have already started.  According to an article about Apple's projected earning in the WSJ,  "Michael Jackson’s death did move some recordings.  According to The Journal’s Ethan Smith, U.S. retailers sold 415,000 albums by Michael Jackson in the four days following his June 25 death, according to Nielsen’s SoundScan. That’s compared with fewer than 10,000 copies that were sold in the previous full week. Over half of those sales were digital downloads made on services such as iTunes and Amazon.com’s AmazonMP3."  Apparently, Jacksons fans appreciate his music more now that he's gone.  Interesting.  

And that, my morbid readers, is why the Jackson wrongful death lawsuit may not be frivolous, but it may be worthless.  

hans