The problem of elder financial abuse is on the rise in the United States. In general, seniors are more vulnerable now than they ever were. This is both because of their growing isolation and the increased ways that people discover to steal from seniors. Even when seniors are in a nursing home, the risk of this problem does not go away.
While family members are the most common culprits of financial abuse, the nursing home setting presents a whole new set of challenges. Specifically, caregivers are one of the most likely groups of people to commit financial abuse. Most caregivers do exactly what they promise—they give care in an exemplary fashion for the seniors with whom they work. However, some take advantage of their position of power and use it for criminal or deceitful purposes.
Caregivers Are in a Position to Commit Financial Abuse
Nursing home caregivers can commit financial abuse because of the control that they have over residents. The nursing home staff is in the resident’s room many times each day and has access to their possessions and some key paperwork with personal information. Further, nursing home residents rely on staff for all of their activities of daily life and are vulnerable to manipulation and pressure.
Specifically, there are many types of financial abuse that nursing home staff can commit.
The term actually has a very wide legal definition, which includes:
- Fraudulent, illegal, improper, or unauthorized acts
- Of individuals including fiduciaries or caregivers
- That utilize the resources of a senior for wrongful gain, profit, or benefit
- And that deprives the senior of rightful access and use of their resources, assets, or belongings
Under the above definition, financial elder abuse can take many forms, all of which can cause financial harm.
Examples of Financial Abuse in Nursing Homes and Among the Elderly
In a nursing home setting, financial elder abuse can include:
- Taking money and property from the resident’s room
- Using a position of power and control to influence the senior to make financial decisions that benefit the staff member, including changing the will to include them
- Stealing their personal information to commit identity theft
- Threatening them with penalties and consequences if the senior does not give assets to the staff member
- Taking or misusing things such as the senior’s credit card or checkbook
Who You Should Call if Your Loved One Suffered Financial Abuse
There are several penalties that nursing homes may face when someone commits financial abuse against their residents. Some penalties can help your family recover what your loved one lost. The other penalties would punish the nursing home and abusive individuals for what they did. Both penalties are important for your loved one’s recovery and to deter future abuse.
With that in mind, make three calls when you discover financial abuse:
- An attorney who can file a lawsuit for your family and can provide other legal help such as getting your loved one out of false contracts and working to undo changes to a will
- The state nursing home board or agency, which should then begin an investigation into the nursing home
- The police, if there was any form of fraud or theft
How to Recover Compensation for Financial Abuse
Your attorney is a crucial person to have on your side after you discover the financial abuse of your loved one. Most families have no idea where to turn and do not know about their legal rights. Our attorneys can counsel you on the steps that you should take and will be a trusted and compassionate guide throughout the process.
One thing that your attorney can do is file a civil lawsuit on behalf of your loved one against the nursing home for financial abuse. Not only can you recover what they lost, but you may also get other damages from the nursing home.
Remember that financial abuse is a form of mistreatment that damages the senior’s psyche. Even if nursing home staff only took a small possession, the effect on the elderly resident who knows that their possessions disappeared can be immeasurable. It can cause them health problems, as the stress and mental distress that can harm their well-being. They might become paranoid that everyone is out to steal from them. A nursing home abuse lawyer can advise whether damages for emotional distress might be possible.
How an Attorney Will Help With Your Case
Filing a lawsuit begins with contacting a nursing home abuse lawyer. The attorney will speak to you and ask about the facts of your case. On the first visit and afterward, you will provide them with documentation that they can use as the basis for beginning to investigate your case. The lawyer may review account records and other communication to find out exactly what happened. They will interview you and other family members to learn more about the facts, depending on the type of abuse your loved one suffered.
What You Can Recover in a Financial Abuse Civil Case
When your loved one loses valuable assets or items, you might have the right to sue. Even when the nursing home causes your loved one harm by issuing them financial threats, it can be grounds for a lawsuit.
Here are some causes of action in a financial abuse case:
- Intentional infliction of emotional distress
- Conversion (this is when someone takes another’s property)
- Negligence of the nursing home or the aide’s employer failing to monitor the situation and protect the senior from financial abuse
Some states even have specific legal statutes that are solely on the point of elder financial abuse that allow you to sue when someone takes advantage of a senior. These, plus the lawsuit ground of negligence, help because you would not even need to prove that someone had intended to financially exploit the senior. These are complex legal issues that a lawyer can evaluate.
As mentioned above, emotional distress might be as much a part of a financial abuse lawsuit as trying to recover the taken property. There is a reason why people call it financial “abuse.” Usually, in a financial abuse lawsuit, the two biggest elements are the actual damages in terms of stolen property and emotional distress. In many cases, the emotional distress damages might outweigh the financial harm. Seniors can be particularly attached to their money and property, and even a minor theft can have serious effects on their physical and emotional health.
Another type of damages that you may obtain in a financial abuse case is punitive damages. Usually, punitive damages are a very rare type of award, reserved for when the defendant engages in truly awful behavior. Some financial abuse cases may not merit them, such as when a staff member simply takes an item from your loved one’s room.
However, in large fraud cases in which the financial abuse was major and ongoing, or when the nursing home knew of the conduct and did nothing to stop it, your lawyer might recommend trying to get punitive damages in your case. This is when nursing home abuse verdicts can get really large, especially when the jury is angry at what happened and wants to send a message to the nursing home. Seniors who are defrauded by con artists are often very sympathetic in the eyes of the jury.
You Will Also Need Legal Help with the Effects of Financial Abuse
Beyond a lawsuit, you might need a nursing home financial abuse lawyer because there may be aftereffects of the financial abuse. For example, your loved one may have false contracts with someone else that need addressing. You may need to work with an attorney to challenge a will that your loved one signed when they lacked the proper capacity to sign it.
When you file a financial abuse lawsuit, you are suing the nursing home, possibly in addition to the person who actually took the property or committed the act. This is because the nursing home is legally responsible for the acts of its employees. Anyone who works at a nursing home is an agent of the facility when it comes to nursing home law. The same is true if the financial abuse occurred by a home health care aide. The company that employs the aide will be responsible for the harm caused by their employee.
This can complicate the case, as nursing homes and healthcare companies often have legal teams and insurers ready to fight against liability every step of the way. This makes it more imperative to have the right nursing home abuse attorney handling your case.
Five Reasons to Act Quickly in a Civil Lawsuit
When it comes to a civil lawsuit, the sooner that you and your family act, the better of a chance that you might have to recover financially.
This is why you need to contact a lawyer immediately when you suspect that something is wrong:
- Each state has a statute of limitations that starts to run at the time that you knew or should have known that you have grounds for a lawsuit.
- Many financial exploitation cases have a tangled web to unravel to figure out what happened. The quicker a lawyer gets started, the more effective they may be in learning the facts.
- If the case is complicated, the lawyer can bring in financial experts to help with the situation.
- Especially when there is ongoing financial abuse, the attorney can help you act quickly to put an end to it. This is true in cases such as identity theft or when your loved one is making payments on an ongoing basis to someone else.
- Even when the case is more straightforward, the attorney can not only help you with the civil lawsuit, but they can advise you on how to deal with the nursing home.
The Nursing Home Can Also Face Penalties
Another major penalty that a nursing home may face is a fine from the federal government. The nursing home’s legal obligations when it comes to financial abuse are set out in 42 CFR 483.12. Specifically, it says that a resident has the right to be free from abuse, neglect, misappropriation of resident property, and exploitation. Financial abuse falls under this rule as it involves both misappropriation of resident property and exploitation.
When nursing homes violate federal rules, there can be serious consequences for them. The immediate problem is that the nursing home will likely be under investigation. When a skilled nursing facility is part of the Medicaid program, they receive yearly unannounced visits from state inspectors working on behalf of the federal government. These inspectors can also show up when there is a complaint to investigate further. When there is a financial abuse complaint, you can rest assured that they will be on the nursing home’s doorstep sooner rather than later.
Nursing Homes Can Face Fines and Suspensions from Medicaid
A common result in these cases is that the federal government fines the nursing home. The worse the abuse and facts, the larger the fine. However, a nursing home may not get off that easily if they are a serial violator of federal rules. They may even find themselves temporarily or permanently cut off from the Medicaid program. For a nursing home, that could be their downfall.
Accordingly, your lawyer will likely tell you to report the incident to the state for further investigation. If the government establishes that a facility violated the law, it can help your civil case because you can use that violation as evidence in your civil case.
Of course, you should also report the incident to the police if the staff member stole from your loved one in any way. Theft is a criminal offense, and the person who took your family member’s property might even face jail time for criminal fraud. Criminal cases rarely compensate injured loved ones fully, so you still want a nursing home abuse lawyer to pursue a civil case.