There are special laws that may apply to elderly persons called elder laws. These laws cover social security, pension plans, age discrimination, and other topics. These laws may also include elder abuse laws. 

California elder abuse laws define elder abuse as the abuse of an elderly person or a dependent adult. Elder abuse is defined as exploiting, neglecting, or inflicting painful harm or mistreatment upon a person 65 years of age or older. 

The California elder abuse statute also applies to anyone ages 18 to 64 years of age who is a dependent individual. Most individuals are familiar with dependents on their tax returns, which usually includes their children. A dependent can also be an edlerly parent whose child cares for them or an individual with mental disabilities who cannot care for themselves. 

Common types of elder abuse include isolation, abandonment and financial abuse. An elderly person may be forbidden from interacting with friends and relatives. They may also be left alone for long periods of time without care. Financial abuse includes taking money, improperly using their bank accounts, and fraudulently gaining access to property or other accounts while pretending to safeguard their assets. It is common for caregivers, especially if they are relatives, to try and take advantage of the access to an elderly person’s savings, property or their will.

What Actions Does the Statute Count as Abuse?

According to the California elder abuse statute, there are several actions that are considered abuse, including:

  • Physiological abuse;
  • Neglect;
  • Abandonment;
  • Violence against the individual;
  • False imprisonment;
  • Stealing the elderly individual’s money;
  • Stealing the elderly individual’s property; and
  • Isolation.

Are Elder Abuse and Elder Neglect the Same?

No, elder abuse and elder neglect are not exactly the same. Elder neglect occurs when the person responsible for providing necessary care to the elderly individual fails to do so. Victims of elder neglect are most often those residing in care facilities that cannot care for themselves on a daily basis. 

Many jurisdictions note a difference between elder abuse and elder neglect. Neglect implies an individual did not receive necessary and proper care. Neglect usually implies an omission of proper behavior, such as:

  • Failure to provide basic necessities such as food and water;
  • Failure to properly administer medications;
  • Permitting the elderly individual to live in unsuitable or unsanitary living conditions; and
  • Failure to communicate information to another individual at the request of the elderly individual, especially if that failure results in physical harm to the elderly individual.

In contrast, elder abuse usually includes an act or behavior perpetrated against the elderly individual, such as violence or psychological harm. Elder abuse can be classified as passive abuse or active abuse.

Passive elder abuse results when the caregiver accidentally neglects to properly care for the individual. Active elder abuse occurs when the caregiver knowingly fails to meet the elderly person’s needs. Active elder abuse often occurs when the individual and caregiver do not get along, and often results in criminal charges.

How Does California Define Physical Elderly Abuse?

Physical elderly abuse in California includes:

  • Assault;
  • Battery;
  • Assault with a deadly weapon;
  • Chemical restraint, such as with medication;
  • Sexual assault; and
  • Unreasonable physical restraint.

There are signs to watch out for that may indicate an elderly individual is being physically abused. These can include bruises on the body, unexplained weight loss, dehydration, bed sores and broken bones, among others. It is important to remember that these individuals often cannot defend themselves, so if abuse is suspected, it should be investigated immediately.

There are also some behaviors to watch for that may indicate an elderly person is being abused. These can include anxiety, confusion, withdrawal, depression, and fear, among others. Any change in behavior or out of character behaviors can be indicators and should be investigated. 

Is Elder Abuse the Same as Domestic Violence in California?

No, elder abuse is not the same as domestic violence in California. Elder abuse is directed at an elderly or dependent individual, as discussed above. 

Domestic violence is a type of abuse that is perpetrated upon a spouse, domestic partner, former domestic partner or a family member. A case where an elderly person or dependent is also a victim of domestic violence, the case can be treated as elderly abuse.

Is It Required to Report Elder Abuse?

Yes, most states require an individual who witnesses elder abuse to report the abuse to the appropriate agency. Depending on the care situation of the elderly individual, the proper agency may include:

  • A healthcare professional;
  • A human services professional;
  • A law enforcement officer; and/or
  • An employee at a long-term care facility.

If any of the previously mentioned professionals are presented with claims of elder abuse or neglect, they are required to make a report. Any individual who is involved in the elderly individual’s care in any way should make a report if they have a reasonable belief that the elder has been abused. Failing to do so may be considered a misdemeanor crime in some states.

What Is the Punishment for Elder Abuse?

The punishment for elder abuse in California is treated as a wobbler offense. A wobbler offense can be charged as a misdemeanor or felony, depending on the facts of the case. Punishment for elder abuse in California can include:

  • One year in county jail and a $6,000.00 fine for a misdemeanor conviction; or
  • Two to four years in county jail for a felony conviction.

In some jurisdictions, as noted above, an individual with a duty to report elder abuse may be convicted of a misdemeanor for failing to do so. Also, if a person with a duty to report fails to do so, the family of the victim may sue them. That person could be liable for losses and be required to pay hospital bills and attorney’s fees.

Does California Apply Enhanced Penalties to an Abusing the Elderly Conviction?

Yes, California applies enhanced penalties to convictions of elderly abuse in certain situations. The punishment for a conviction of elderly abuse can increase if the elderly individual:

  • Sustained great bodily injury; or
  • Died because of the abuse. 

In situations where the victim sustained great bodily injury, the court may add three or more years to a sentence if the victim was 70 years or younger. The court may add four years to a sentence if the victim was over 70 years old. 

In situations where the victim died as a result of the abuse, the court may add five years to a sentence if the victim was younger than 70 years old. The court may add seven years to a sentence if the victim is 70 years or older.

Do I Need an Attorney If I Am Charged with Elder Abuse?

Yes, an experienced family law attorney in California can assist with your case. Elder abuse is a serious claim that results in severe consequences. It can result in a felony conviction which can affect your future. 

A family law attorney will help examine the facts of your case and determine what legal defenses are available to you. It is important to consult with a family law attorney because elder abuse laws can vary by state.