Dunedin mother loses appeal over son’s death

Boyd Cuttance died of a rare fungal form of meningitis in 2012. Photo / ODT

The mother of a Dunedin man who died following a spell behind bars has had her legal challenge again shut down by the courts.

Boyd Cuttance, 44, died in hospital on March 28, 2012, after doctors failed to uncover the source of his debilitating illness.

It was only afterwards they discovered he had meningitis, caused by an invasive soil-borne fungal infection.

Cuttance was jailed for two and a half years for an incident outside a Waihola bar which saw him set a car on fire and scuffle with the pub’s manager.

After just 48 days at the Otago Corrections Facility, he had seen medical staff at least every other day complaining of extreme headaches and been assessed by a Corrections-contracted doctor (whose name was suppressed) three times.

He was rushed to hospital, where he died 72 days later.

Last year his mother Elizabeth faced off against the office of the Attorney-General at the Dunedin District Court. Rather than financial recompense, she sought a series of declarations, inviting Judge Paul Kellar to determine those who treated Cuttance were negligent.

“The degree of negligence of the prison medical staff dealing with Boyd was outrageous and amounted to subjective recklessness,” Cuttance wrote in a statement.

Judge Kellar, however, dismissed her claim.

Cuttance then took her case to the High Court at Dunedin in June where the appeal was heard by Justice Rachel Dunningham.

In her decision, recently obtained by the Otago Daily Times, she found that Judge Kellar made no error of law in his reasoning.

On Cuttance’s behalf, Anne Stevens KC focused on the decisions of “Dr X”, who said she did not recall looking at nursing notes related to the patient, nor was it her regular practice to do so.

Stevens said it was “a direct cause of Mr Cuttance not being referred to specialist care at a time when his life could potentially be saved”.

Justice Dunningham did not see the issue as pivotal. “I am satisfied that Dr X, whether Dr X saw the notes or not, took considerable care to elicit the relevant history from Mr Cuttance. Dr X did not merely consider his presentation on the day in isolation,” she said.

“In all the circumstances, there is nothing to suggest Dr X fell below a reasonable standard on this count, let alone that it was causative of Mr Cuttance’s death.”

Cuttance may yet make a complaint to the Health and Disability Commissioner or challenge the ruling in the Court of Appeal. She could not be reached for comment.

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