August 4, 2010

An Interesting Choice of Law Ruling from the Eastern District of New York

As we have noted, there is some debate about which state's law should govern a claim for punitive damages in cases where the relevant acts took place in different states. The law governing the substantive law issues should not necessarily apply to the punitive damages, because one state may have the dominant interest with respect to the substantive law and compensatory damages issues, while another state may have the dominant interest with respect to punitive damages.

Those who are interested in this issue should check out this decision from the Eastern District of New York. The parties agreed in that case (Deutsch v. Novartis) agreed that New York law would govern the plaintiffs' substantive causes of action, but they disagreed about which law should govern the punitive damages claim. The court accepted the defendant's argument that the claim for punitive damages should be governed by New Jersey law because that's where the relevant conduct occurred. The decision is based in part on choice-of-law decisions from the Second Circuit, but it's worth a read for anyone who is litigating this issue in any jurisdiction.

Hat tip: Product Liability Monitor