$40 million verdict for burned heart may be largest in Snohomish County history

A jury Monday awarded $40.1 million to a man whose heart was cooked during a 2004 operation in Everett when a medical device malfunctioned.

The jury ruled that a California company, Edwards Lifesciences Corp. of Irvine, Calif., bears almost all the blame for what happened to Paramjit Singh, because it failed to tell doctors about flaws it knew existed in the device.

The blockbuster verdict appears to be the largest ever in Snohomish County and is thought to be one of the state’s largest for a personal injury lawsuit, according to lawyers.

Singh said he hoped the verdict will send a message.

“I don’t want it to happen to anybody again,” he said.

Singh went into Providence Everett Medical Center in October 2004 for relatively routine heart bypass surgery. A monitor made by Edwards malfunctioned, turning off fail-safe devices and causing a catheter inserted into Singh’s heart to reach temperatures up to 500 degrees.

Doctors couldn’t restart Singh’s burned heart, but he was kept alive with blood-pumping machines and received a heart transplant at University of Washington Hospital 11 weeks later.

The verdict came after a five-week trial and four days of jury deliberation.

Singh, 54, of Mount Vernon, sat expressionless through the reading of the verdict and the lengthy process of polling individual jury members on 17 questions they had to answer. When the jury left, he hugged his wife, Harmeet Kaur, 40, and vigorously shook hands with Dave Brooks, Providence’s chief executive officer.

Both the hospital and the Singhs sued Edwards.

The jury panel of 10 women and two men decided that Edwards was 99.99 percent responsible for Singh’s injury, Providence just .01 percent. Edwards accused Providence of using a defective cable and being partly responsible for burning Singh’s heart.

The finding means that Providence will have to pay a little more than $3,000 of the amount that was awarded to compensate Singh and his family, lawyers for Singh and Brooks said.

But the jury also ruled that Edwards owes Providence about $310,000 in damages.

Jurors found that Edwards violated the state Consumer Protection Act, which means it also may have to pay attorney fees for the hospital. In addition jurors ruled that Edwards committed fraud against the hospital by withholding knowledge that some of the monitor’s computer code could cause the overheating.

What’s more, jurors found that Edwards was malicious in its conduct and awarded punitive damages to the Singhs and Providence.

About $8.3 million was awarded in punitive damages and $31.75 million to compensate the Singhs for what they’ve gone through. The hospital’s punitive damage amount is $100,000 of the $310,000.

“We’re very pleased. This sends a message to manufacturers that they cannot put their profits over patient safety,” said Robert Gellatly, one of Singh’s lawyers. “They can’t conceal their defects and get away with it.”

An Edwards spokesman Monday emphasized that the monitor had been used for 15 years on thousands of patients without injuring anyone but Singh.

“We’ve always been sympathetic to the Singh family and always felt he and his family should be fairly compensated,” said the spokesman, who asked that his name not be used, in line with the company’s policy.

Edwards intends to appeal the punitive damages award, and the company believes the amount awarded to compensate the Singhs is unfair to the company.

One juror returned to the courtroom to speak with Singh and his wife.

Edwards knew that the monitor posed a potential danger and they chose not to warn anybody, juror Vickie Jewett said.

“Even though they thought it was a remote possibility, they were playing Russian roulette,” Jewett said.

Jurors watched a video shot in 2003 in Japan of a catheter charring and smoking during an operation. The catheter in that case was outside a patient’s heart.

Jewett called Singh, who testified, a genuine man who “wasn’t up there for show.”

On the other hand, she had harsh criticism for Edwards CEO Michael Mussallem, who during testimony minimized the damage to Singh, she said.

“The CEO said it was sad. This is devastating. This is beyond sad,” Jewett said. “For him to sit up there and say over and over and over it’s sad is inexcusable.”

Singh said he’s glad the trial is over because the pressure is gone. He is thankful to the medical personnel of both Providence and UW hospitals.

“They saved my life,” he said.

Singh said some of the money from the jury verdict will be donated to the University medical facility.

The verdict was large but the damage done to her husband was enormous, Kaur said.

“The money won’t give him his life back,” she said.

Singh will have medical problems the rest of his life, including a weakened immune system due to anti-rejection drugs he must continue to take. Those drugs caused cancer once and that could happen again.

In addition, he will have a shortened life expectancy, is at risk for kidney failure and possibly may need another heart transplant.

“This jury worked hard, lawyer Gellatly said. “They sent a message that you can’t hide hazardous defects.”

Reporter Jim Haley: 425-339-3447 or jhaley@heraldnet.com.

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