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Elder abuse: Out of the shadows and into the courtroom

An estimated 2.1 million older Americans are victims every year of elder abuse. In fact, experts believe that only one in six cases of elder abuse is reported.
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    January 01, 2014 /24-7PressRelease/ -- Elder abuse: Out of the shadows and into the courtroom

An estimated 2.1 million older Americans are victims every year of elder abuse. In fact, experts believe that only one in six cases of elder abuse is reported. "Elder abuse" can be defined as the intentional or negligent acts by a caregiver or trusted individual that cause harm to a vulnerable elder. It takes many forms, including:
-Emotional abuse
-Physical abuse
-Neglect (by the caregiver) or self-neglect
-Financial exploitation

The most common risk factors include:
-Poor physical health
-Mental health or substance abuse issues (by the elder or abuser)
-Social isolation or withdrawal

Whatever the form or cause, elder abuse is wrong and needs to be addressed legally whenever it raises its ugly head. What can be done?

Legal solutions

On September 5, 2013, Governor Jerry Brown of California signed Assembly Bill 381, allowing a court to award attorney's fees and costs to seniors who are victims of those who commit financial elder abuse through using a power of attorney. Prior to this new law, elder victims could be awarded only double the damages suffered; filing the lawsuit cost so much that victims often lost money even if they won their suit.

Assemblymember Ed Chau, who authored the bill, has said: "Each year in California, elder and dependent adults are devastated by the loss of property taken from them through financial scams. This bill makes certain that seniors who are victims of financial elder abuse will no longer have to worry about the cost of seeking justice."

AB 381, and other statutes and regulations, as well as court decisions dealing with the subject of abuse liability, have made it much easier these days to file an elder abuse lawsuit. The social climate has also changed. Where once elder abuse was a shameful subject, not to be discussed or dealt with, it is now out in the open and recognized as a serious matter.

When an abuse case goes to trial, the complaining party often finds that the jury is sympathetic to his complaint. Juries, judging by their verdicts and the amounts they reward, understand that elderly people are often at the mercy of others for their basic needs, that caregivers are frequently inadequately trained, and that facilities are understaffed.

Required evidence

Every abuse lawsuit requires certain evidence to prove the allegations of neglect or mistreatment, including: (1) the daily records (medical and otherwise) for residents or patients at living and nursing facilities; (2) results of state investigations, if such exist; and last, but not least, (3) reports from family members as to what they've noticed (that is, what they've heard and what they've seen). The lesson to be learned here is: Pay attention. Observe how you elder loved one is being treated, report what you consider abuses and, if necessary, consult an elder abuse attorney, to evaluate your situation and determine whether damages or other relief may be available.

Article provided by Corsiglia McMahon & Allard, LLP
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