Paramjit Singh went to Providence Everett Medical Center in October 2004 for a relatively routine heart bypass surgery. During the surgery, an Edwards Lifesciences’ monitor malfunctioned causing a catheter in Mr. Singh’s heart to heat up and destroy the heart. He was kept alive by a mechanical heart for 11 weeks until a heart transplant became available. Anti-rejection medication caused Mr. Singh to develop blood cancer.
Mr. Singh sued Edwards Lifesciences (which was apparently uninterested in both life and science in Mr. Singh’s case). The lawsuit sought punitive damages against Edwards Lifesciences. The evidence presented at trial revealed that Edwards knew about the flaw in their heart monitor as early as 1998. In October of 2002, the same devise had caught fire during a surgery in Japan. Edwards did not recall the product or warn any of the users of the defect.
Edwards admitted liability, but alleged that Providence shared in that liability for using a defective cable. The jury returned a verdict of $31,750,000 and awarded punitive damages under California law. Punitive damages amounted to $8,350,000. Edwards appealed, arguing that because Washington disfavors punitive damages, none should have been awarded because the case was litigated in Washington. California law provides for punitive damages.
The Court of Appeals rejected this argument, relying on the Restatement (Second) of Conflict of Laws. The Court held that “[e]ven though Washington has a strong policy against punitive damages, it has no interest in protecting companies that commit fraud. Where, as here, an entity headquartered in California, committed the conduct in California that resulted in the plaintiff’s damages, California had the greater interest in deterring such fraudulent activities.”
Note to self: Pay careful attention to what Paul Luvera does. He is a living legend. Joel Cunningham, Robert Gellatly, Deborah Martin, Howard Goodfriend and Andy Hoyal aren’t bad either.