Monday, May 20, 2013

Court Orders New Trial Based on Improper Conduct of Trial Justice

In Porcelli v. Northern Westchester Hospital Center, the plaintiffs sued Dr. Tsai and Northern Westchester Hospital Center for alleged medical malpractice after their infant daughter developed respiratory problems and a pharyngeal tear when Dr. Tsai inserted an endotracheal tube to check for the presence of meconium after the birth. The court dismissed the claim against the hospital pursuant to CPLR 4401, and the jury returned a verdict for Dr. Tsai. However, the Second Department reversed and granted a new trial on the issue of liability against Dr. Tsai, because of the excessive intervention and improper conduct by the trial justice. The court held that the trial justice "unnecessarily injected personality issues into the case" and "demonstrated a propensity to interrupt, patronize, and admonish the plaintiff’s counsel." For example, among other things, the trial justice likened plaintiff’s council to "a leech on a horse" in the presence of the jury. As a result, the court concluded the jury could not have considered the issues at trial in an unprejudiced and fair manner, and ordered a new trial against Dr. Tsai. In addition, the Court reinstated the claim against the hospital for vicarious liability because the hospital’s 4401 motion did not request dismissal of the vicarious liability claim. Since the Court reinstated the cause of action against Dr. Tsai, the Court reinstated the vicarious liability claim against the Hospital.

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