Claims Commission decision to credit defense witnesses affirmed.

Where the claims commission credited defendants’ witnesses and found that plaintiffs had not proven their HCLA case, the Court of Appeals affirmed.

In Cavaliere v. State, No. M2021-00038-COA-R3-CV, 2022 WL 320241 (Tenn. Ct. App. Feb. 3, 2022), plaintiffs filed an HCLA suit against the state based on treatment received by decedent at the Tennessee State Veterans Home. Decedent was over 90-years-old and was a patient at the Veterans Home before being transferred to a hospital when the staff at the Veterans Home noticed concerning issues. Decedent died a few days after the transfer, and at the time suffered from numerous medical concerns. His medical charts indicated that in the months preceding his death, he had been noted as likely to have continuing/recurring problems with pneumonia and dehydration, both of which were at issue in this case.

Plaintiffs asserted that staff at the Veterans Home had failed to meet the standard of care, but defendant put forth an expert witness and staff who had worked with decedent to show that the standard of care was met. The Claims Commission credited the testimony of defendants’ witnesses and found for defendants, and the Court of Appeals affirmed.

While plaintiffs also had an expert witness at the trial, the Court of Appeals noted that several points of his testimony seemed hesitant or uncertain. Plaintiff also sought to rely on testimony from two former Veterans Home employees regarding whether the standard of care was met, but these employees had not worked at the home in the 18 months preceding decedent’s death.  The Court of Appeals ruled that there was “no reversible error in the Claims Commission’s expression of an intention to limit the weight that should be given to testimony that was temporally remote to the care received by [decedent] in the last year and a half of his life, especially in light of some of the other evidence that existed as to staffing levels.”

Ultimately, this case came down to witness credibility and the weight given to differing witnesses’ testimony. The Court of Appeals found no error in the Claims Commission crediting the witnesses presented by defendant and accordingly affirmed the ruling for defendant, reminding us that rulings based on witness credibility are difficult to overturn on appeal.

This opinion was released two months after this case was assigned on briefs.

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