The Appellate Group

Taylor v. University of Utah

Taylor v. University of Utah, 2020 UT 21 (Himonas, J.)


A patient had a disorder that caused spasticity, and she had an implanted medication pump to control the spasticity. When she suffered severe shaking in her legs, a hospital treated her over a two-day period, first giving her oral medication (which she vomited) and then replacing her medicine pump. Afterwards the patient sued the hospital, alleging that under the hospital’s treatment, she suffered from withdrawal from the medicine that caused her permanent cognitive injuries. The patient’s expert testified in a deposition that there was no reported case of the medicine withdrawal that exhibited the symptoms and injuries the patient suffered. The hospital sought to exclude the expert from testifying under Utah R. Evid. 702, and the district court granted the motion. The Utah Court of Appeals affirmed. The Utah Supreme Court affirmed, holding:

  • The expert’s facts are insufficient to support her method of logical deduction. The expert relied on three broad facts to logically deduce that the medicine withdrawal caused the patient’s injuries: (1) the medicine withdrawal can cause a metabolic disturbance, (2) metabolic disturbance can cause encephalopathy, and (3) encephalopathy can result in permanent deficits. But these facts are extremely broad, and it is undisputed that the terms “metabolic disturbance” and “encephalopathy” can encompass numerous situations. The expert’s logical deduction, then, suffers from the fallacy of equivocation, which exploits the ambiguity of a term and uses one meaning of a term at one point in the argument and another meaning of the term at another point in the argument. Here, the expert failed to account for whether the types of “metabolic disturbances” that can be caused by the medicine withdrawal are the same types of metabolic disturbances that can cause encephalopathy, and the expert did not support the analytical leap to the conclusion that the types of encephalopathy caused by metabolic disturbances can cause permanent injuries. The district court, then, did not abuse its discretion in excluding the expert’s testimony under Utah R. Evid. 702. 

Read the full court opinion