Trial starts tomorrow, September 13th, in Salt Lake medical malpractice and wrongful death case Jenafer Birt Meeks v. Dr. Daniel Cottam et al., #180902456, Third Judicial District for Salt Lake County (Judge Matthew Bates). A jury was picked last Wednesday.

Lillian “Lil” Birt died two weeks after a laparoscopic hiatal hernia repair and lysis of adhesions performed by Dr. Daniel Cottam on April 11, 2016 at Salt Lake Regional Medical Center. (Obituary here.) 

The day after the surgery, Ms. Birt presented to Dr. Cottam’s partner, Dr. Christina Richards, with increasing abdominal pain and vital signs changes that plaintiffs allege were indicative of a bowel perforation and developing sepsis. Conservative measures were prescribed. Then Dr. Cottam saw Ms. Birt on April 14th for worsening systems, and sent her to the emergency department. There she was seen by him and the emergency department physicians, and assessed as having an ileus secondary to the surgery or possibly a necrotic bowel.

The next day, when Ms. Birt had not improved, Dr. Cottam and Dr. Richards performed exploratory surgery. They found and repaired a 3mm bowel perforation. However, Ms. Birt’s condition remained poor even after the second surgery, with complications from sepsis, septic shock, and pneumonia. She remained on a ventilator.

She was followed by infectious disease and critical care specialist Dr. Wei Peng and his colleagues. Unfortunately, her condition did not significantly improve and, after ten days, a decision was made to withdraw life support. Ms. Birt died on April 25th.

Plaintiffs (the two surviving adult children) originally alleged that the original surgery was unnecessary; that Dr. Cottam failed to recognized that he had perforated the bowel; that the follow-up by both Dr. Cottam and Dr. Richards was substandard in failing the recognize the perforation; and that the decision to withdraw life support was made by the family based on incomplete and inaccurate information concerning their mother’s chances of survival. SeeComplaint and Plaintiffs’ Designation of Witnesses and Exhibits for more detail.

However, a Pretrial Stipulation limits the issues at trial to the issue of whether the original surgery should have been performed, and whether the withdrawal of care was appropriate. (Par. 16).  The parties have also stipulated that no evidence of special damages need be presented. (Par. 6- 10).

​Trial should last through next week.

Personal Injury Counsel:

​-For plaintiffs: Ashton Hyde and John Macfarlane of Younker Hyde Macfarlane.

-For Dr. Cottam and Dr. Richards: Kurt Frankenburg and Greg Soderberg of Litchfield Cavo.

-For Dr. Peng: Mike Miller and Savanna Jones of Strong & Hanni.

The insurance carrier for all defendants is Constellation/UMIA.
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