California Elder and Dependent Abuse: Who's Protected?

California law protects two groups of people – elders and dependents. Elders, or the elderly or seniors, are people age 65 and older and they automatically get protection in a care or custodial setting such as a nursing home, assisted living facility or home care. The other group consists of people aged 18 to 64 if they are dependent – meaning that there is something physically, emotionally or mentally disabling to them and they have to be dependent upon others.

Attorney J. Niley Dorit

J. Niley Dorit, a California elder law lawyer whose practice consists of elder and dependent neglect, nursing home abuse, medical malpractice , and general personal injury, cases, provided us with additional information on the subject in a recent interview. According to Dorit, while “[b]oth the elderly and dependents are covered by the law, those in the dependent population, between 18 and 64, are commonly left out of the caption on these kinds of cases. An example would be someone who is paralyzed due to an accident, or has been disabled from birth, and has to be in a long-term facility or under the care and custody of a caregiver or in a private small home.”

Who determines dependency?

Contrary to what many believe, someone’s dependency ordinarily does not have to have been determined by a court of law. Dorit explained, “The dependency simply is somebody who, on a functional level, requires assistance and is in the care and custody of somebody else. I emphasize the words ‘care and custody’ because all of the victims of elder and dependent neglect in California are victims in a care or custodial type setting. Simply being an elderly or dependent person who has been in an automobile accident isn’t enough. Elder abuse is defined under California law as being in a custodial type setting – someone who is dependent to the degree that they need somebody to help them take care of their basic daily functions or is in a skilled nursing facility for long term care.”

Common issues facing California elderly and dependent care patients

Attorney Dorit explained some of the common issues facing both elderly and dependent care patients:

I would say that the most common issues are probably a combination of understaffing, not having enough caregivers per resident or per patient, and caregivers who are poorly trained or not trained at all. A significant problem at many of these facilities is that they will have beautifully written plans about managing and coordinating care and needs, but those plans are not implemented. So, when there’s a bedside failure – say an elder doesn’t get their medications for days, weeks or months – there’s no supervision to make sure the care plan is followed. Supervisors need to make sure that daily care services are provided, and often that does not happen. There’s a systemic problem with the plans simply not being enforced.

If you or a loved one has been the victim of elder or dependent abuse, contact an experienced elder abuse attorney to discuss your situation and determine whether damages may be available.