The State of Washington’s policy against punitive damages did not prevent a product liability Plaintiff from recovering punitives for the fraudulent conduct of a California company, the Washington Court of Appeals has ruled in affirming an $8.5 million award. The Plaintiff needed a heart transplant in order to save his life because of a malfunction in a heart monitor manufactured by the Defendant. The Plaintiff sued for strict liability under Washington law and sought punitive damages based on evidence that the Defendant had known for years about a defect in the heart monitor.
The Defendant, a California company, argued that the claim for punitive damages was barred under Washington law. But the Court applied a “most significant relationship” choice-of-law test to decide that punitive damages could be awarded in accordance with California law. The Court said:
Even 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.
This is a logically-correct decision and one that recognizes the importance of punitive damages in the scheme of things. Bad conduct must be punished and punitive awards allowed to not only punish, but to deter further conduct of a like nature.
Source: Lawyers USA Online
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