EVERETT, Wash., March 10 // -- A Snohomish Superior Court jury today awarded a Mount Vernon, Wash. man and his family $40.1 million after his heart was irreparably burned by a medical device the manufacturer knew for years was defective.
The award, one of the largest of its kind, included $8.35 million in punitive damages.
Paramjit Singh checked into Providence Everett Medical Center in October 2004 for routine surgery when a monitor manufactured by California-based Edwards Lifesciences (NYSE: EW) malfunctioned, causing a catheter to overheat and searing his heart.
According to Paul Luvera, founding partner of The Luvera Law Firm and one of the attorneys representing Singh, Edwards knew of the potential problem as early as 1998 but chose not to warn hospitals and other users of the potentially deadly flaw.
Singh had to undergo a heart transplant because of his injuries and faces serious life-long medical problems, including an expected kidney transplant.
The jury also awarded Providence Everett Medical Center $310,000 in damages. Providence filed suit claiming Edward's actions damaged the hospital. In today's ruling the jury found Edwards 99.9 percent negligent for Singh's injuries.
"The jury told Edwards Lifesciences and medical device manufacturers everywhere that putting profits before human safety is simply not acceptable," said Luvera. "The 12 men and women of this jury paid close attention to the facts throughout the five week trial and the punitive damages they awarded today shows that they accepted the challenge of setting a standard for patient safety."
"They had the courage to do the right thing for the Singh family, and for Providence Everett Medical Center," Luvera noted. "The jury made a thorough assessment of Singh's injuries and circumstances and found Providence's actions inconsequential, a victory all around."
Singh was admitted to Providence Everett Medical Center to undergo cardiac bypass surgery. During the operation, surgeons monitored Singh with Edwards' Vigilance I Monitor and placed several catheters in his heart tissue.
When the physician could not remove a catheter from Singh's heart, he made an incision and found a piece of the catheter was "burned to a crisp" and the heart tissue around it was charred. He was unable to re-start Singh's heart.
Providence Hospital -- which also sued Edwards -- worked diligently to help Singh and his family, Luvera noted.
Providence arranged for Singh to be transferred to University of Washington Medical Center where he was put on a mechanical heart device and kept in a chemically induced coma for several weeks until he could receive a heart transplant. Providence paid for all the medical procedures.
According to Kathy Cochran, attorney for Providence, the hospital performed professionally and according to the protocols they were given by Edwards in the operation of the monitor.
After the device caused extensive damage to Singh's heart, it was the surgery team's expertise that saved his life, she noted.
"While it's sad that Edwards Lifesciences didn't just step up to the fact that its product was faulty, it is a relief that after more than three years of investigation and discovery, we are now vindicated by the jury's decision," Cochran said. "And most importantly, Mr. Singh and his family will have justice and compensation for the catastrophic injuries they experienced."
According to court documents, Edwards first became aware of a software bug in its monitors back in 1998, but ignored internal recommendations to correct the problem. In 2002, the software bug caused a similar incident in Japan -- caught on video tape -- but the smoldering catheter had been removed from the patient before overheating.
Despite the Japan incident, Edwards did not warn or advise healthcare professionals to stop using its monitors, court records show. Instead, the company simply began distributing re-designed products in March 2003 that no longer contained the software error.
"Edwards Lifesciences knew these monitors were defective years before Mr. Singh suffered his injuries," said Luvera. "It is unbelievable to me that Edwards allowed its quest for profits to trump its concerns for public safety."
The jury awarded Singh $24 million, his wife $6 million and their children $750,000, $500,000 and $500,000 respectively.
When Singh's injury occurred in 2004, Edwards continued to deny any problem with its product, and made no attempt to alert other hospitals.
In 2006, almost two years after Singh's heart was permanently damaged, Edwards issued a product recall that removed all defective monitors from healthcare facilities.
In its action, Providence Everett Medical Center claimed the company defrauded the hospital and violated the Consumer Protection Act among other actions. The jury found for the hospital in each of its claims.
The judge allowed the Singh's and Providence to argue for punitive damages -- typically not permitted in Washington court -- since Edwards is based in California, a state that allows for punitive damages.
About Luvera Law Firm
Luvera Law Firm is a nationally recognized firm, with high standards of ethical conduct. The firm specializes in medical malpractice, brain injury, death and other major damage cases, and seeks justice for clients as well as positive changes in corporate and governmental behavior. Two members of the firm belong to the Inner Circle of Advocates, the nation's most exclusive plaintiff's trial lawyer's association, whose membership is limited to 100 of the best lawyers in the United States.
Paul Luvera (206) 467-6090
Luvera Law Firm
Mark Firmani (206) 443-9357
Firmani + Associates Inc.