Elder abuse is a devastating reality for as many as one in 10 Americans age 60 or older. Of the estimated 6 million elder abuse cases in the U.S. each year, California accounts for a staggering 10.6%.
Unfortunately, elder abuse is also massively underreported, with approximately just 1 in 24 cases being reported. For California victims whose abuse is reported, justice can be served and abusers can be held accountable in the courtroom.
A free case evaluation from the Peck Law Group can help you understand your legal options and the next steps toward compensation. Call 866-999-9085 or fill out our online form to request your no-charge, no-obligation case evaluation.
Peck Law Group specializes in personal injury cases including nursing home abuse, assisted living abuse, and general elder abuse. Our award-winning law firm represents clients in Los Angeles, San Diego, the San Francisco Bay Area, Sacramento, and all other California communities.
Who Commits Elder Abuse and Why
Almost all elder abuse occurs at the hands of the victims’ caregivers. While many people assume that abuse is more common in long-term care facilities like nursing homes, nearly 60% of elder abuse is actually committed by family members – primarily adult children or spouses.
There are many different reasons that family members abuse elders. While there is no excuse for abusing an elderly person, contributing factors can include frustration or stress due to the burden of caregiving, resentment, financial stress, greed, and just plain carelessness.
Elder abuse is also perpetrated by third-party caregivers, such as in-home service providers, hospital staff, or staff in nursing homes and assisted living facilities. When abuse occurs in a hospital or long-term care facility, some contributing factors may be low-quality care, poor facility management, short staffing, improper hiring and training practices, lack of staff supervision, underpaid staff, or staff frustration.
Unfortunately, in many cases, the question of “why” an elder was abused is never answered. As the Baby Boomers age and increasing strain is placed on families and the long-term residential care industry, incidents of elder abuse will only continue to rise.
Types of Elder Abuse and Signs to Watch For
Elder abuse can happen in the home, in the hospital, in a long-term care facility, or elsewhere. The National Center on Elder Abuse divides elder abuse into seven categories.
In some cases, the victim is able to report that they have been physically abused, but unfortunately power dynamics and mental or physical disability often prevent elderly victims from reporting abuse. In these cases, loved ones may try to piece the puzzle together themselves.
Elderly physical abuse includes force such as striking, beating, pushing, shaking, or kicking that may cause injury, pain, or impairment. It can also include inappropriate use of drugs or restraints, force-feeding, or physical punishments.
Warning signs of physical abuse:
- Bruises, welts, wounds, cuts, or other injuries in various stages of healing
- Broken bones, sprains, or dislocation
- Broken teeth
- Broken eyeglasses
- Change in behavior
- Victim and caregiver relaying conflicting accounts of events
Elderly sexual abuse includes any and all non-consensual sexual contact with an elderly person or individual who is legally unable to consent. This can range from unwanted touching or explicit photographing to coerced nudity, sodomy, or rape.
Warning signs of sexual abuse to an elderly person:
- Unexplained sexually transmitted infections or diseases
- Vaginal or anal bleeding
- Trouble walking or sitting
- Bruising around the chest or genitals
- Torn, stained or bloody clothing
- Withdrawal or other changes in behavior
Emotional or Psychological Abuse
Emotional or psychological abuse of an elderly person occurs when anguish, pain, or distress is inflicted.
This abuse can be verbal or nonverbal and can include insults, degradation, making threats, intimidation, and other verbal assaults.
Forced social isolation or seclusion from friends and family can also be considered emotional or psychological abuse.
Warning signs of emotional or psychological abuse:
- Withdrawal or being non-communicative
- Self-soothing behaviors such as rocking or sucking
- Elderly person looking to caregiver before speaking or otherwise not allowed to speak for him or herself
- Caregiver preventing visits with the elderly person
- Caregiver preventing the elderly person from receiving mail, telephone calls, or other communication
- Caregiver placing unnecessary restrictions on activities
Neglect is the refusal or failure to meet an elderly person’s needs or fulfill obligations or duties to an elderly person.
Most often, neglect refers to refusal or failure to meet a person’s physical needs, such as food, water, shelter, clothing, hygiene, medical treatment, and other necessities.
Neglect can also include when a person with financial responsibility for the elderly person refuses or fails to pay for necessary care or treatment.
Warning signs of neglect:
- Untreated health conditions
- Poor nutrition
- Poor hygiene
- Bed sores
- Hazardous or unsafe living conditions, such as living without heat, electricity or running water
- Unsanitary or filthy living conditions, such as bed bugs, fecal/urine smell, soiled clothing or bedding
Abandonment is the purposeful desertion of an elderly person by someone who was responsible for providing their care.
Elders are most often abandoned at hospitals, but are sometimes left in other public locations by relatives or other caregivers. When a nursing home or other care facility abandons an elderly person, this is referred to as “patient dumping” or “involuntary discharge.”
Often, in patient dumping, an elderly resident is transferred from a nursing home to a hospital for acute care, and then the nursing home reassigns their room or bed and refuses to take the resident back after hospital discharge.
In California, residential care facilities must hold a resident’s bed for up to seven days if that resident is transferred to a hospital.
Warning signs of possible abandonment:
- Encountering an elderly person who is alone and appears lost, confused, or frightened
- Sudden loss of contact with a loved one
- Poor hygiene or other indications of lack of care
Financial or Material Exploitation
Financial or material exploitation is the illegal or improper use of an elderly person’s finances, property, or other assets. This category of abuse encompasses a wide range of crimes, including forging the elderly person’s signature, coercing or deceiving them to sign a document or hand over funds, mishandling of Social Security or other assistance, stealing, and more.
Warning signs of financial or material exploitation:
- Missing funds or other changes in banking behavior, such as large withdrawals made in the presence of a caregiver
- Unauthorized ATM withdrawals
- Sudden transfer of funds or assets
- Sudden changes in wills, life insurance, or other estate planning documents
- Disappearance of money or valuables
- Previously uninvolved relatives coming out of the woodwork to assert claims over financial affairs
- Caregivers with gambling or substance abuse issues
Self-neglect occurs when an elderly person refuses or fails to meet their own basic needs and this behavior threatens their own health or safety.
Warning signs of self-neglect:
- Lack of food, water, housing, or other necessities
- Untreated health conditions
- Inadequate or inappropriate clothing
- Poor personal hygiene
- Hazardous, unsafe, or unsanitary living conditions
According to California Penal Code
For a more technical definition of elder abuse, turn to the California Penal Code. Criminal elder abuse can fall into several different sections of the code, with the most encompassing being Penal Code § 368: Crimes Against Elders, Dependent Adults, and Persons with Disabilities. This section is broken down into several different categories:
- § 368(b): Abuse of Elders and Dependent Adults – Likely to Produce Great Bodily Harm or Death
- § 368(c): Abuse of Elders and Dependent Adults – Not Likely to Produce Great Bodily Harm or Death
- § 368(d): Financial Abuse of Elders and Dependent Adults – Non-Caretaker
- § 368(e): Financial Abuse of Elders and Dependent Adults – Caretaker
Charges and penalties can vary widely between these different categories. Minimum and maximum sentencing depends on a variety of circumstances, including the type of abuse, victim’s age, whether or not the perpetrator was a caregiver to the elderly person, whether the circumstances or conditions resulted in death, and the value of the property taken in financial abuse cases.
One key piece to remember is that elder abuse must be knowing, intentional or negligent.
In both § 368(b) and § 368(c), the abuser “willfully causes or permits any elder or dependent adult to suffer, or inflicts thereon unjustifiable physical pain or mental suffering,” or, with the elderly or dependent adult in their care or custody, “willfully causes or permits the person or health of the elder or dependent adult to be injured, or willfully causes or permits the elder or dependent adult to be placed in a situation in which his or her person or health is endangered.”
The key difference between these two charges is whether or not the act was likely to produce great bodily harm or death. If great bodily harm or death occurred or was likely, the charge can range from a misdemeanor with a penalty of one year in county jail and/or a $6,000 fine all the way up to a felony charge that carries up to 11 years in prison.
On the other hand, if great bodily harm or death was not likely, the charge is a misdemeanor with a maximum sentence of 6 months in county jail and/or a $1,000 fine.
§ 368(d) and § 368(e) both relate to theft, fraud, identity theft, forgery or embezzlement. The difference between these two categories is whether or not the perpetrator was a caretaker to the elderly person. However, the penalty for both can range from one year in county jail and/or a $1,000 fine all the way up to 4 years in county jail and/or a $10,000 fine, depending on the value of the property taken.
Depending on the nature of your or your loved one’s abuse, other relevant sections of California law may include those related to murder, sexual crimes or health care facility violations.
How Peck Law Group Can Help
Peck Law Group’s attorneys are committed to fighting for California victims of elder abuse and the compensation they deserve. With more than 50 years of combined experience and millions of dollars recovered in damages, you can place your confidence in us.
We offer free case evaluations. In fact, we work on a contingency basis, so you won’t pay a dime for our representation until you receive your compensation. Reach out at 866-999-9085 or premierlegal.org/evaluation/ to get started.
Elder Abuse FAQs
If an elderly person is in immediate danger, contact 911 first.
Adult Protective Services has an agency in each California County that works to protect adults 60 or older and dependent adults with disabilities age 18 or older. Reports of abuse occurring at home, in a hospital, or in the community can be made 24 hours a day, 7 days a week at 1-833-401-0832.
If the abuse occurred in a licensed care facility, such as a nursing home, assisted living facility, rehabilitation center, or adult day program, you can contact the Long-Term Care Ombudsman CRISISline at 1-800-231-4024. The CRISISline is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
Some possible signs of an abusive caregiver can include:
Indifference, annoyance, or anger toward the elderly person
Providing conflicting versions of events or explanations of injuries
Preventing visitors from being alone with the elderly person or cutting off communication
Flirtatious behavior toward with the elder
A history of mental illness, substance abuse, domestic violence, or other criminal behavior
Depending on the type of abuse and other factors, elder abuse can be charged as either a misdemeanor or a felony.
Each case is unique, and different counties’ courts move at different speeds. Typically, the litigation process for elder abuse cases takes about 9-18 months in California.
About the Author
Attorney Steven Peck has been practicing law since 1981. A former successful business owner, Mr. Peck initially focused his legal career on business law. Within the first three years, after some colleagues and friend’s parents endured nursing home neglect and elder abuse, he continued his education to begin practicing elder law and nursing home abuse law.