Sleep Expert Witness In Michael Jackson Case

In the suit against AEG Live for the death of Michael Jackson, the plaintiff recently brought in a sleep expert witness, Dr. Charles A. Czeisler, to discuss Jackson’s sleep habits and the overall impact of them on the late singer’s death. Dr. Czeisler is professor and director of the division of sleep medicine at Harvard Medical School and the chief of the division of sleep medicine at Brigham and Women’s Hospital.[1] He has written over two hundred publications on different aspects of sleep medicine, is a member of numerous medical societies, and is also a highly experienced sleep expert witness.

Dr. Czeisler testified on June 20th, discussing the effect of the propofol infusions administered to Jackson prior to his death.[2] According to Dr. Czeisler, Jackson’s propofol infusions, which allowed him to remain awake for long periods of time to rehearse, caused Jackson to go sixty nights without REM sleep — more than any human has gone without such sleep.[6] These sixty nights of propofol infusions left Jackson feeling refreshed, but didn’t grant him the benefits of REM sleep. REM sleep repairs neurons, which improve learning and memory.[3] Lack of REM sleep can cause paranoia, anxiety, depression, distraction, and, eventually, death.[4] As Dr. Czeisler explained, “It would be like eating some sort of cellulose pellets instead of dinner…Your stomach would be full and you would not be hungry, but it would be zero calories and not fulfill any of your nutrition needs.” Dr. Czeisler’s testimony was striking because AEG Live was aware Jackson had exhibited many of these symptoms in preparation for his tour.[5]

The case against AEG Live for the death of Michael Jackson brings up important lessons for the search for and deposition of a sleep expert witness. Commonly known medical specialties — such as emergency medicine, cardiothoracic surgery, or nursing — are more familiar to the typical jury than a sleep medicine. When looking for a sleep medicine expert, attorneys need to consider that likely none of the jurors have even basic understanding of what sleep medicine entails. Therefore, it is crucial to retain a sleep medicine expert who has both stellar credentials and the ability to relay abstract medical science concepts to a jury of laypeople.

With that in mind, the attorneys saw Dr. Czeisler as an ideal fit for the case. Dr. Czeisler spent most of his professional life studying different elements of sleep medicine and had relevant experience as a sleep consultant for NASA, the CIA, Shaquille O’Neal, and The Rolling Stones.[7] Despite the fact that his credentials were stellar, Dr. Czeisler still had to explain his complex field to the jurors, most of whom were likely unfamiliar with his science. CNN stating that Dr. Czeisler handled this well, as the jurors appeared “quite interested” to hear Dr. Czeisler explain the basic elements of the sleep cycle, including the benefits of sleep, the biochemical effects that occur when sleeping, the methodology that he used, and the infusions that Jackson was taking.[8]

Due to the slightly abstract nature of sleep medicine, explaining the fuller implications of his findings may have been difficult. By using appropriate analogies and setting up a compelling foundation that jurors wanted to hear more about, Dr. Czeisler was able to distill the complex ideas into manageable insights for the jury. In the end, this is the most important function of a sleep expert witness.