Georgia Elder Abuse Attorney
Instances of elder abuse are on the rise in Northern Georgia and throughout the state, prompting a recent meeting of the North Georgia Elder Abuse Task Force in Rome, GA. Georgia Attorney General’s office special prosecutor Lyndie Freeman referred to the increase as an “epidemic” and Rep. Katie Dempsey, R-Rome expressed her concern that these types of crimes were continuing to “grow and mushroom in a scary fashion.”
During the meeting, law enforcement and state officials from throughout the region began laying the necessary groundwork to establish a multijurisdictional effort to help combat the rising tide. The main goal of the task force is to work with state and local officials throughout Georgia to develop ways of making prosecution of elder abuse cases easier and to provide tougher punishment for offenders. For many of the most vulnerable members of our community, however, this effort at stopping elder abuse will come too late.
Elder Abuse in Georgia: Criminal Law vs. Civil Law
That’s where the civil side of the law can help. The criminal side of the law, where prosecutors work and law enforcement officials typically focus, is concerned with putting the people who break the law in prison. Punishing people who abuse or neglect elders is important, but it doesn’t always help the elder victims who have already been harmed.
The civil side of the law — where our firm works — is concerned with helping victims. When one person or entity has harmed another, that person or entity must compensate the victim for the harm. The civil side of Georgia law can force a scam artist who stole money from an elder person, a con artist who defrauded an elder person, or a nursing home that neglected an elder person compensate the victim for that abuse. The defendant can be made to compensate the victim for pain and suffering, financial loss, medical bills, or compensate the victim’s family for loss of life in a wrongful death case. At Butler Tobin, we focus on obtaining that compensation for victims and their families.
The civil side of Georgia law can force a scam artist who stole money from an elder person, a con artist who defrauded an elder person, or a nursing home that neglected an elder person compensate the victim for that abuse.
What is Elder Abuse?
While the commonsense definition of elder abuse may seem intuitive to most of us, legally there are many exploitative actions that may lead to civil or criminal penalties. Under Georgia law, actions that qualify as elder abuse may include physical or emotional abuse, sexual abuse, financial abuse, or exploitation and neglect.
Sometimes, elder abuse can be addressed through Georgia’s criminal law system, particularly if the elder abuse is intentional (as opposed to negligent) or leads to death, bodily harm, or theft. In those situations, the State of Georgia may bring a criminal case against the party at fault seeking to put the defendant in prison, and the victim or victim’s family can bring a simultaneous civil case seeking compensation. In other situations, such as nursing home neglect or neglect by home nurses, a civil lawsuit may be the only way to take action against the elder abuse that has occurred.
Financial Elder Abuse
Financial abuse and exploitation of the elderly is of particular concern to officials and is one of the categories that has seen an exponential increase. Financial abuse isn’t always as simple as stealing money from the elderly victim. Using undue influence to gain access to the victim’s resources, by using a Power of Attorney for example, can also be elder abuse.
Elder abuse can often be difficult to detect given the decreased socialization and activity levels of the elderly. In cases of financial abuse, the victim may not even be aware they have been taken advantage of until the crime is well underway or, in unfortunate cases, the crime is not discovered until the heirs unravel the victim’s finances after their death. Abusers are also often in positions of power and can have close relationships with the victim, further complicating detection and prosecution. Common abusers include family members, caregivers or fiduciaries, all of which are in a position of inherent trust by the victim given their relationships.
Because it often involves elder abuse by an older person’s own family members, financial elder abuse can be heartbreaking. Often, the older person who has been targeted does not want to believe that the thief or abuser has taken advantage of him or her. Other family members may be slow to acknowledge the elder abuse for the same reason. But when elder abuse occurs, it has real consequences that others will have to live with. Georgia law can provide a remedy.
Financial abuse isn’t always as simple as stealing money from the elderly victim. Using undue influence to gain access to the victim’s resources, by using a Power of Attorney for example, can also be elder abuse.
Elder Abuse and Elder Neglect at Nursing Homes
Elder abuse through neglect is becoming more common. As more seniors enter nursing homes, there seem to be more and more companies that want to take in patients; take as much money from taxpayers as they can through Medicare, Medicaid, or Tricare; and hire the smallest number of nurses and caregivers possible. That combination is greedy and is a recipe for disaster. Nursing homes run by such companies end up with too many residents and patients and too few staff people to care for them. The result is pressure sores, improperly dispensed medication, drops, and dehydration. In short, elder abuse by neglect.
An elder abuse lawyer with experience learns the signs. Pressure sores or pressure ulcers are wounds in the skin that appear when a person is immobile for too long and are classic signs of neglect at nursing homes or other facilities. Improperly dispensed medication can reveal a nursing home that is understaffed, staffed by people without adequate training, or both. Dropping elder patients is often a signal of understaffing — moving patients (particularly with a Hoyer lift) typically requires two staff members, but if there aren’t enough nurses or technicians around, sometimes the nursing home staff tries to do it alone. Dehydration of nursing home residents shows that the staff at the nursing home isn’t even able to provide the water that their paying patients need to stay healthy. All of these problems reveal elder abuse by neglect.
At best, the result of such elder abuse or elder neglect is the ruining of someone’s golden years. At worst, the result is wrongful death.
When it comes to elder abuse by neglect at nursing homes or other medical facilities, understaffing is almost always the problem, and greed by the owners is almost always the cause. The owners of a nursing home simply make more money for themselves if they hire fewer doctors, nurses, and technicians. That way there are fewer salaries to pay. It’s just math, and unfortunately, the elder patients are the ones who come up short.
Pressure sores or pressure ulcers are wounds in the skin that appear when a person is immobile for too long and are classic signs of neglect at nursing homes or other facilities. . . Dropping elder patients is often a signal of understaffing — moving patients (particularly with a Hoyer lift) typically requires two staff members, but if there aren’t enough nurses or technicians around, sometimes the nursing home staff tries to do it alone.
Signs of Nursing Homes that May Neglect or Abuse Elder Patients
A elder abuse lawyer learns to see the signs of greed in nursing home companies. One sign is “shell companies.” The owners of nursing homes where elder abuse occurs typically have many, many companies to hide where the money is going. There may be a big parent company that owns many different small limited liability companies (“LLCs”). Those LLCs may be the entities that supposedly “operate” each nursing home that the parent company controls, but typically, no money stays in those smaller operating companies. Instead, the money gets passed up to the parent company. The money made by the nursing homes can even be paid to other LLCs (as “consultants”) that are also controlled by the parent company. The land on which the nursing home sits may be owned by yet another LLC, and money is often siphoned through it to the same people who control the parent company. Then if someone gets hurt and the nursing home gets sued for elder abuse, the owners will hire highly-paid lawyers to insist that there is only one LLC to be sued — and of course, that operating company won’t have any assets. The people in control have hidden the money somewhere else.
Another sign of a nursing home that is seeking to avoid responsibility for elder neglect is the aggressive pursuit of arbitration agreements. Companies that operate understaffed nursing homes know that Georgia law allows victims of elder abuse (or their families) to hold them accountable in court, so most dishonest nursing homes will do anything they can to stay away from the courthouse. They hope that any victims of neglect will not be able to bring cases and will never talk with an elder abuse lawyer. To keep victims away from Georgia courts, they try to force residents, or residents’ family members, to sign “arbitration agreement” forms when they first move in. Typically, the nursing home gives this form to an elderly resident, or the busy family member who is trying to get the resident moved into the nursing home, as a part of a packet of a dozen or more different forms. The form typically says that if elder abuse or neglect occurs, the elder person or the family cannot sue the nursing home in court but must go to “arbitration.” Typically, this “arbitration” must occur before an arbitrator chosen by the nursing home company. The nursing home company’s real goal, of course, is to avoid paying any real money to victims of elder abuse or elder neglect. Unfortunately, Georgia courts sometimes (though not always) treat these forced-arbitration forms as valid.
Successfully suing nursing homes takes skill, experience, and lots of hard work. Systematic elder abuse or elder neglect is hard to stop but for a lawyer willing to work, busting the bad guys can be extremely rewarding.