Reporting Elder Abuse

Authored by , LegalMatch Law Library Managing Editor and Attorney at Law

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What is “Elder Abuse”?

Elder abuse” is typically defined by state law as any physical abuse, deprivation, or neglect of care that causes an elder person pain, mental suffering, or physical harm.  For example, failing to provide an elder person with food or medication at the proper time can constitute elder abuse.  Most cases of elder abuse are committed by elder care workers.
  
Under federal laws, “elders” are persons who are at least 60 years old.  Some states defined elders to be persons who more than 65 years old.  Also, some laws consider a disabled person over the age of 18 to be an elder. 

Depending on the elder laws of each individual state, elder abuse may be classified as a civil violation, a criminal offense, or both.  All 50 U.S. states have some sort of law addressing the issue of elder abuse. 

Furthermore, elder abuse may be classified as either “passive” or “active”.  Passive elder abuse occurs when a caregiver’s neglect causes the elder person’s harm.  Active elder abuse is when a caregiver intentionally engages in abuse.  Active elder abuse usually results in criminal charges. 

Is it a Requirement to Report Elder Abuse?

Most state laws require anyone who witnesses elder abuse to report the incident to an appropriate agency.  In particular, health care and human service professionals, law enforcement personnel, and long-term care facility employees are required to make such reports.

Other persons who may be required to report elder abuse include financial contributors (such as bankers) and religious clergy members. 

As a broad rule of thumb, any person who is in some way responsible for the care of elder persons should make a report if they “reasonably believe” that an elderly person has been subjected to abuse.  The name of the person making the report is usually kept confidential. 

What are the Legal Penalties for Failing to Report Elder Abuse?

Failing to report elder abuse is actually considered to be a misdemeanor crime in most states.  Such charges may result in a monetary fine, and/or a short jail sentence.

In a few jurisdictions, a person who has the duty to report elder abuse, but fails to do so, may be sued by the victim or the victim’s relatives.  The offender may then become liable for the victim’s losses, and may have to pay costs such as hospital bills and attorney’s fees.  

Do I Need a Lawyer for Reporting Elder Abuse?

If you wish to report an instance of elder abuse, you may wish to contact an attorney for advice.  The reporting process can sometimes be complex, and state laws may vary on the subject.  However, an experienced lawyer can help you file the report.  In particular, if you have a duty to report elder abuse, it is important that you contact an attorney, so as to avoid possible criminal charges. 

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Last Modified: 03-30-2012 01:54 PM PDT

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