Lai v. Sagle, 373 Md. 306 (2003)

Maryland law is clear that a trial judge's decision to grant a mistrial is left to the judge's discretion. Lai v. Sagle is the rare case where the Court of Appeals of Maryland, disagreeing with the Court of Special Appeals and the trial court, reversed the trial judge because the court abused its discretion in failing to grant a mistrial.

In this Washington County case, Plaintiff's counsel in her opening said that defendant doctor had been sued 5 times before. Without meeting one of the narrow execeptions - prior misstatements about the claims, habit (but not in the "habit of screwing up" sense), or routine practice - you can't point to prior malpractice lawsuits as evidence the doctor breached the standard of care.


But the question in this case is whether a curative instruction solved the problem and, more to the point, whether the trial judge abused his discretion for failing to grant a mistrial. Almost invariably, appellate courts would defer to the trial judge on these types of issues. Judge Harrell, who likes to start cases off with a bang of some sort, began the opinion like this: "Courts often are reluctant to declare brightline rules or standards. There are good reasons for this usually. In this case, we overcome that reluctance." Essentially, he is saying "I know we don't usually draw lines in the sand on this stuff, but we have to here."

The court also noted that the same logic holds true for a doctor's failure to pass a medical board certification exam because there is little relevance to the issue of whether the doctor met the appropriate standard of care in a particular case because the doctor failed his boards.

  • Lai v. Sagle (the opinion)
  • Defendant's Motion in Limine (relying on Lai v. Sagle)
  • The Law in Michigan on Prior Bad Acts in Malpractice Cases
  • A look at California law on the subject
  • New 2013 Illinois appellate opinion involving a Cook County fatal tractor-trailer crash. There as a large verdict. At trial, prior bad acts were admitted, such as speeding and driver fatigue that had nothing to do with the crash that was the subject of the case.
  • "Fun" real life example of admissibility of prior bad acts involving Kayne West
  • Maryland Personal Injury Attorney Help Center: learn more about just how you put together a real tort case

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