Under California Penal Code and Welfare and Institutions Code, Elder Abuse Gives Rise to Criminal and Civil Actions
Criminal elder abuse describes the willful infliction of physical pain or mental suffering on an elder. In the absence of intent, criminal abuse also includes the reckless endangerment of an elder's life by placing the elder in a situation the person has reason to believe would be dangerous. The California Penal Code sets forth rules governing criminal elder abuse. Civil elder abuse is governed by the California Welfare and Institutions Code, which defines elder abuse as the physical or financial abuse of an elder, whether through neglect, abandonment, isolation, abduction, or other treatment causing physical or mental harm to the elder. Care custodians may inflict physical harm or mental suffering on elders by depriving them of goods or services necessary to daily functioning.
Elder abuse is an intolerable fact of life for many people 65 years or older who are too afraid, too frail, or discouraged to speak out for themselves. As many as five million elders in the United States are abused, neglected, or exploited each year and 90 percent of these cases are perpetrated by family members or trusted advisors. As 76 million baby boomers approach old age and retirement, the population of adults aged 65 years or older will increase dramatically, forcing elder abuse to the forefront of important legal issues confronting senior citizens, their caretakers, and families.
The California Code of Regulations, Code of Federal Regulations, and Health and Safety Code guarantee elders specific rights to living accommodations, medical care, and quality of life in both nursing homes and residential care facilities. One example is the elder's right to voice complaints or grievances without fear of retaliation. Elders must also receive care in a manner which "promotes and enhances" their quality of life, including being given food of the "quantity and quality" meeting their needs and preferences.
Indeed, elders and those who love them should be vigilant in identifying signs of physical, financial, emotional abuse, and neglect. Some signs of elder abuse include unexplained injuries, failure to assist in personal hygiene, unreasonable isolation, and withdrawn or confused behavior. Those who suspect elder abuse should document their findings and report them by filing a complaint with any of the following entities: local law enforcement, the Office of the State Attorney General, the California Department of Public Health, the Department of Public Services, the local Long-Term Care Ombudsman, or the Bureau of Medical Fraud and Elder Abuse.
Elder abuse is both a criminal and civil offense. In addition to criminal fines and imprisonment, those convicted of elder abuse are liable for compensatory and punitive damages as well as court costs and attorney's fees. Nursing homes and care facilities are likewise subject to loss of license, censure, and fines for committing elder abuse.