The mistreatment of older people was brought to the attention of the American public and lawmakers in the early 1980’s. Numerous cases, in which older people were being physically harmed, deprived of food, water or proper medical attention, and deprived of their life savings by caregivers and relatives, were brought to light. When the widespread nature of this abuse and neglect was made clear, state legislatures started to enact laws to address these problems.

Today, all states have laws concerning the abuse, neglect or exploitation of older people, but follow different approaches. For instance, in most states, there is a system of adult protective services for investigating and remedying reported abuses. Moreover, some states have laws giving victims of abuse, neglect or exploitation a civil cause of action. Finally, in most states, the abuse or neglect of older people is also a crime.

Adult Protective Services

Typically, before any civil or criminal action is commenced against a nursing home, a report will have been made to your state’s adult protective services agency, or other system in place for the reporting and investigation of allegations of the abuse, neglect or exploitation of the elderly.

All states have a system for reporting allegations of abuse, neglect and exploitation of the elderly, for investigating the allegations and, if the allegations are founded, for providing services to the older person to remedy the problems and prevent their recurrence. In fact, most states have mandatory reporting requirements with respect to such allegations. If an agency concludes that an allegation is founded, it will respond by offering the older person appropriate services, such as medical assistance, counseling, special transportation, assistance with money management, or placement in a different residential setting.

Adult protective services might meet the needs of a nursing home resident who has been abused, neglected, or exploited; however, there may be situations where the victim or the victim’s family do not feel satisfied or justly compensated for the injury or indignity suffered at the hands of the nursing home. In such cases, the resident or resident’s family member should speak to an attorney about bringing a civil action for damages against the nursing home. In addition, the circumstances may warrant a criminal prosecution.

Civil Actions Based on Statutes

Some state legislatures have created causes of action involving the abuse, neglect, or exploitation of older people, which allow victims to bring civil actions against the perpetrators and/or their employees. These causes of action may authorize damages awards to victims, but may also authorize the issuance of injunctions and restraining or protective orders, for immediate relief from ongoing abuse or neglect. Additionally, some states have special statutory rights of action for the violation of the rights of residents of longterm care facilities. Generally, the statutory rights of longterm care facility residents include the right to be free from abuse and neglect, or the right to a safe environment.

To qualify for Medicaid funds, longterm care facilities that qualify as “skilled nursing facilities” must meet certain federal, statutory and regulatory requirements. Most nursing homes today fall in this category and, therefore, must meet federal standards. One federal requirement is that such facilities comply with a “Residents Bill of Rights,” which provides that residents have the right to be free from verbal, sexual, physical and mental abuse, corporal punishment and involuntary seclusion.

Federal law does not explicitly create a cause of action for nursing home residents who suffer from violations of their statutory rights, but experienced Eric Johnson Monroe criminal lawyer may find ways to bring successful claims under other federal statutes that affect the disbursement of federal funds to nursing homes, such as the Federal False Claims Act. Another option would be to sue a nursing home for false advertising if, for instance, it claimed to maintain highquality resident care, but is found to have violated federal standards of care.

Last modified: September 6, 2020

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