Nursing Home Abuse FAQs

The American population is rapidly aging, primarily due to Baby Boomers entering their senior years. According to the United States Census Bureau, all Baby Boomers will be over the age of 65 by 2030, which will result in 1 of every 5 US residents being of retirement age. By 2035, older individuals will outnumber young people for the first time in history, with 78.0 million people 65 years of age and older compared to 76.7 million under age 18. As such, issues that affect seniors will continue to be pushed to the forefront of our national consciousness.

One of the most serious of those issues is nursing home abuse. An aging population means that more people will be living in nursing homes, which also means that more people will be at risk of suffering abuse in them. When that happens, you may want to pursue legal action against the parties who are responsible.

Below are some of the most common questions the lawyers at the Evans Law Firm receive about nursing home abuse, as well as our brief answers to them.

What Counts as “Nursing Home Abuse”?

“Nursing home abuse” is an umbrella term that encompasses any type of act (and sometimes failures to act) that cause harm to a nursing home patient. This harm can be physical, emotional, financial, or a combination of the three. 

Physical Abuse

Physical abuse is intentionally causing physical harm to a nursing home patient. It often involves hitting, slapping, pinching, pushing, hair pulling, excessive or unnecessary use of restraints, and over- and under-medication. It can also involve sexual assault. Because many nursing home residents are already in a weakened physical state, physical abuse can cause more extensive injuries than it would in younger individuals.  See Calif. Welf. & Inst. Code Section 15610.63 (defining physical elder abuse).

Emotional Abuse

Emotional abuse is designed to scare, shame, or intimidate a nursing home patient into submission. This type of abuse is insidious and can often occur over a prolonged period of time before it begins to negatively affect the victim. Some examples of emotional abuse include yelling at, belittling, ridiculing, isolating, and gaslighting or otherwise manipulating the patient. See Calif. Welf. & Inst. Code Section 15610.07 (mental suffering is a form of elder abuse).

Financial Abuse

Financial abuse occurs when a caregiver takes money from or otherwise causes financial harm to the nursing home patient. They can accomplish this either by physically stealing cash, checks, credit cards, and personal property, or by defrauding the victim through investment schemes, Medicare fraud, identity theft, and forgery. See Calif. Welf. & Inst. Code Section 15610.30 (defining financial elder abuse).

What’s the Difference Between Nursing Home Abuse and Neglect? 

Nursing home abuse and nursing home neglect both cause harm to their victims. As outlined above, abuse occurs when caregivers intentionally harm nursing home residents. Neglect occurs when caregivers negligently cause harm by failing to provide the necessary care that nursing home residents require and which they are contractually obligated to provide.  Calif. Welf & Inst. Code Section 15610.57 (defining neglect). This can include, for example, failing to answer their calls for assistance, forgetting to feed, bathe, or medicate them, and ignoring their complaints about physical ailments. Both nursing home abuse and nursing home neglect are legally actionable when they result in harm to the resident. Contact a California nursing home abuse lawyer for more information about the distinction between abuse and neglect.

How Widespread is this Problem?

Likely more widespread than you think, unfortunately. The National Center on Elder Abuse estimates that roughly 10% of seniors nationwide suffer physical abuse, emotional abuse, financial exploitation, and neglect at some point in their lives. What is even more troubling is another study finding that elder abuse is widely underreported. According to the New York State Elder Abuse Prevalence Study, only about one in 24 cases of elder abuse are reported to the proper authorities.

How Can I Tell if Nursing Home Abuse is Occurring?

One of the most frustrating aspects of nursing home abuse is that many of its victims are either unaware that it is happening or are unable to report it. Family members should thus familiarize themselves with red flags that can indicate that nursing home abuse is occurring and stay vigilant in watching for them. Some of the most common signs that a nursing home resident is suffering from abuse or neglect include:

  • Sudden and unexplained weight loss
  • Dehydration
  • Physical injuries such as bruises, cuts, broken bones, bed sores/pressure ulcers, and infections
  • Unclean or unsanitary living conditions
  • Wandering and elopement incidents
  • Signs of sexual assault or rape
  • Sexually transmitted diseases (STDs)
  • Changes in mood and demeanor or otherwise appearing “not quite themselves”
  • Nursing home staff who are reluctant to leave them alone with family members or friends

What Legal Remedies Are Available for Victims of Nursing Home Abuse?

The law looks very disfavorably upon those who prey upon the elderly and provides a variety of remedies, both civil and criminal, to victims of nursing home abuse. In the civil realm, actions against nursing homes for injuries to residents are often based in negligence, such as negligent hiring, negligent supervision, and negligent maintenance. They can also be based in theories of medical malpractice and breach of contract. For nursing home abuse that involves intentional harm to residents, California law provides for the award of punitive damages, which are available in cases where the defendant is found to be guilty of “oppression, fraud, or malice.” For more information about legal remedies for nursing home abuse, contact a San Francisco nursing home abuse lawyer.

What is the Statute of Limitations for Nursing Home Abuse Claims?

A statute of limitations is a statutorily-imposed deadline for filing lawsuits, and this time limitation varies by cause of action. The statute of limitations for acts of physical elder abuse in California falls under the state’s general personal injury statute of limitations, which is two years. However, for cases in which the injury is part of a medical malpractice claim, the statute of limitations is one year, while the statute of limitations for actions against public entities is six months. For financial elder abuse involving both theft of property and fraud, the statute of limitations is three years.

Contact a California Nursing Home Abuse Lawyer

For more information about any of these topics, please contact the nursing home abuse lawyers at the Evans Law Firm by calling 415-441-8669.

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