Elder Law Abuse Law & Legal Definition


Seven categories of elder abuse have been described by the National Center on Elder Abuse (NCEA), formerly the National Aging Resource Center on Elder Abuse. Categories include the following:

  • Physical abuse is defined as any act of violence that causes pain, injury, impairment, or disease, including striking, pushing, force-feeding, and improper use of physical restraints or medication.
  • Psychological or emotional abuse is conduct that causes mental anguish. Examples include threats, verbal or nonverbal insults, isolation, and humiliation. Some legal definitions require identification of at least 10 episodes of this type of behavior within a single year to constitute abuse.
  • Financial abuse is misuse of an elderly person's money or assets for personal gain. Acts such as stealing (eg, money, social security checks, possessions) or coercion (eg, changing a will, assuming power of attorney) constitute financial abuse.
  • Neglect is the failure of a caretaker to provide for the patient's basic needs. As in the previous examples of abuse, neglect can be physical, emotional, or financial. Physical neglect is failure to provide eyeglasses or dentures, preventive health care, safety precautions, or hygiene. Emotional neglect includes failure to provide social stimulation (eg, leaving an older person alone for extended periods). Financial neglect involves failure to use the resources available to restore or maintain the well-being of the aging adult.
  • Sexual abuse is defined as nonconsensual intimate contact or exposure or any similar activity when the patient is incapable of giving consent. Family members, friends, institutional employees, and fellow patients can commit sexual abuse.
  • Self-neglect is behavior in which seniors compromise their own health and safety, as when an aging adult refuses needed help with various daily activities. When the patient is deemed competent, many ethical questions arise regarding the patient's right of autonomy and the physician's oath of beneficence.
  • The miscellaneous category includes all other types of abuse, including violation of personal rights (eg, failing to respect the aging person's dignity and autonomy), medical abuse, and abandonment.

The following is a California statute dealing with elder abuse:

  • (a) Any person who has assumed full or intermittent responsibility for care or custody of an elder or dependent adult, whether or not he or she receives compensation, including administrators, supervisors, and any licensed staff of a public or private facility that provides care or services for elder or dependent adults, or any elder or dependent adult care custodian, health practitioner, clergy member, or employee of a county adult protective services agency or a local law enforcement agency, is a mandated reporter.
  • (b) (1) Any mandated reporter who, in his or her professional capacity, or within the scope of his or her employment, has observed or has knowledge of an incident that reasonably appears to be physical abuse, as defined in Section 15610.63 of the Welfare and Institutions Code, abandonment, abduction, isolation, financial abuse, or neglect, or is told by an elder or dependent adult that he or she has experienced behavior, including an act or omission, constituting physical abuse, as defined in Section 15610.63 of the Welfare and Institutions Code, abandonment, abduction, isolation, financial abuse, or neglect, or reasonably suspects that abuse, shall report the known or suspected instance of abuse by telephone immediately or as soon as practicably possible, and by written report sent within two working days, as follows:
  • (A) If the abuse has occurred in a long-term care facility, except a state mental health hospital or a state developmental center, the report shall be made to the local ombudsperson or the local law enforcement agency. Except in an emergency, the local ombudsperson and the local law enforcement agency shall, as soon as practicable, do all of the following:
  • (i) Report to the State Department of Health Services any case of known or suspected abuse occurring in a long-term health care facility, as defined in subdivision (a) of Section 1418 of the Health and Safety Code.
  • (ii) Report to the State Department of Social Services any case of known or suspected abuse occurring in a residential care facility for the elderly, as defined in Section 1569.2 of the Health and Safety Code, or in an adult day care facility, as defined in paragraph (2) of subdivision (a) of Section 1502.
  • (iii) Report to the State Department of Health Services and the California Department of Aging any case of known or suspected abuse occurring in an adult day health care center, as defined in subdivision (b) of Section 1570.7 of the Health and Safety Code.
  • (iv) Report to the Bureau of Medi-Cal Fraud and Elder Abuse any case of known or suspected criminal activity.
  • (B) If the suspected or alleged abuse occurred in a state mental hospital or a state developmental center, the report shall be made to designated investigators of the State Department of Mental Health or the State Department of Developmental Services, or to the local law enforcement agency. Except in an emergency, the local law enforcement agency shall, as soon as practicable, report any case of known or suspected criminal activity to the Bureau of Medi-Cal Fraud and Elder Abuse.
  • (C) If the abuse has occurred any place other than one described in subparagraph (A), the report shall be made to the adult protective services agency or the local law enforcement agency.
  • (2) (A) A mandated reporter who is a clergy member who acquires knowledge or reasonable suspicion of elder or dependent adult abuse during a penitential communication is not subject to paragraph (1). For purposes of this subdivision, "penitential communication" means a communication that is intended to be in confidence, including, but not limited to, a sacramental confession made to a clergy member who, in the course of the discipline or practice of his or her church, denomination, or organization is authorized or accustomed to hear those communications and under the discipline tenets, customs, or practices of his or her church, denomination, or organization, has a duty to keep those communications secret.
  • (B) Nothing in this subdivision shall be construed to modify or limit a clergy member's duty to report known or suspected elder and dependent adult abuse when he or she is acting in the capacity of a care custodian, health practitioner, or employee of an adult protective agency.
  • (C) Notwithstanding any other provision in this section, a clergy member who is not regularly employed on either a full-time or part-time basis in a long-term care facility or does not have care or custody of an elder or dependent adult shall not be responsible for reporting abuse or neglect that is not reasonably observable or discernible to a reasonably prudent person having no specialized training or experience in elder or dependent care.
  • (3) (A) A mandated reporter who is a physician and surgeon, a registered nurse, or a psychotherapist, as defined in Section 1010 of the Evidence Code, shall not be required to report, pursuant to paragraph (1), an incident where all of the following conditions exist:
  • (i) The mandated reporter has been told by an elder or dependent adult that he or she has experienced behavior constituting physical abuse, as defined in Section 15610.63 of the Welfare and Institutions Code, abandonment, abduction, isolation, financial abuse, or neglect.
  • (ii) The mandated reporter is not aware of any independent evidence that corroborates the statement that the abuse has occurred.
  • (iii) The elder or dependent adult has been diagnosed with a mental illness or dementia, or is the subject of a court-ordered conservatorship because of a mental illness or dementia.
  • (iv) In the exercise of clinical judgment, the physician and surgeon, the registered nurse, or the psychotherapist, as defined in Section 1010 of the Evidence Code, reasonably believes that the abuse did not occur.
  • (B) This paragraph shall not be construed to impose upon mandated reporters a duty to investigate a known or suspected incident of abuse and shall not be construed to lessen or restrict any existing duty of mandated reporters.
  • (4) (A) In a long-term care facility, a mandated reporter shall not be required to report as a suspected incident of abuse, as defined in Section 15610.07, an incident where all of the following conditions exist:
  • (i) The mandated reporter is aware that there is a proper plan of care.
  • (ii) The mandated reporter is aware that the plan of care was properly provided or executed.
  • (iii) A physical, mental, or medical injury occurred as a result of care provided pursuant to clause (i) or (ii).
  • (iv) The mandated reporter reasonably believes that the injury was not the result of abuse.
  • (B) This paragraph shall not be construed to require a mandated reporter to seek, nor to preclude a mandated reporter from seeking, information regarding a known or suspected incident of abuse prior to reporting. This paragraph shall apply only to those categories of mandated reporters that the State Department of Health Services determines, upon approval by the Bureau of Medi-Cal Fraud and Elder Abuse and the state long-term care ombudsperson, have access to plans of care and have the training and experience necessary to determine whether the conditions specified in this section have been met.
  • (c) (1) Any mandated reporter who has knowledge, or reasonably suspects, that types of elder or dependent adult abuse for which reports are not mandated have been inflicted upon an elder or dependent adult, or that his or her emotional well-being is endangered in any other way, may report the known or suspected instance of abuse.
  • (2) If the suspected or alleged abuse occurred in a long-term care facility other than a state mental health hospital or a state developmental center, the report may be made to the long-term care ombudsperson program. Except in an emergency, the local ombudsperson shall report any case of known or suspected abuse to the State Department of Health Services and any case of known or suspected criminal activity to the Bureau of Medi-Cal Fraud and Elder Abuse, as soon as is practicable.
  • (3) If the suspected or alleged abuse occurred in a state mental health hospital or a state developmental center, the report may be made to the designated investigator of the State Department of Mental Health or the State Department of Developmental Services or to a local law enforcement agency or to the local ombudsperson. Except in an emergency, the local ombudsperson and the local law enforcement agency shall report any case of known or suspected criminal activity to the Bureau of Medi-Cal Fraud and Elder Abuse, as soon as is practicable.
  • (4) If the suspected or alleged abuse occurred in a place other than a place described in paragraph (2) or (3), the report may be made to the county adult protective services agency.
  • (5) If the conduct involves criminal activity not covered in subdivision (b), it may be immediately reported to the appropriate law enforcement agency.
  • (d) When two or more mandated reporters are present and jointly have knowledge or reasonably suspect that types of abuse of an elder or a dependent adult for which a report is or is not mandated have occurred, and when there is agreement among them, the telephone report may be made by a member of the team selected by mutual agreement, and a single report may be made and signed by the selected member of the reporting team. Any member who has knowledge that the member designated to report has failed to do so shall thereafter make the report.
  • (e) A telephone report of a known or suspected instance of elder or dependent adult abuse shall include, if known, the name of the person making the report, the name and age of the elder or dependent adult, the present location of the elder or dependent adult, the names and addresses of family members or any other adult responsible for the elder or dependent adult's care, the nature and extent of the elder or dependent adult's condition, the date of the incident, and any other information, including information that led that person to suspect elder or dependent adult abuse, as requested by the agency receiving the report.
  • (f) The reporting duties under this section are individual, and no supervisor or administrator shall impede or inhibit the reporting duties, and no person making the report shall be subject to any sanction for making the report. However, internal procedures to facilitate reporting, ensure confidentiality, and apprise supervisors and administrators of reports may be established, provided they are not inconsistent with this chapter.
  • (g) (1) Whenever this section requires a county adult protective services agency to report to a law enforcement agency, the law enforcement agency shall, immediately upon request, provide a copy of its investigative report concerning the reported matter to that county adult protective services agency.
  • (2) Whenever this section requires a law enforcement agency to report to a county adult protective services agency, the county adult protective services agency shall, immediately upon request, provide to that law enforcement agency a copy of its investigative report concerning the reported matter.
  • (3) The requirement to disclose investigative reports pursuant to this subdivision shall not include the disclosure of social services records or case files that are confidential, nor shall this subdivision be construed to allow disclosure of any reports or records if the disclosure would be prohibited by any other provision of state or federal law.
  • (h) Failure to report physical abuse, as defined in Section 15610.63 of the Welfare and Institutions Code, abandonment, abduction, isolation, financial abuse, or neglect of an elder or dependent adult, in violation of this section, is a misdemeanor, punishable by not more than six months in the county jail, by a fine of not more than one thousand dollars ($1,000), or by both that fine and imprisonment. Any mandated reporter who willfully fails to report physical abuse, as defined in Section 15610.63 of the Welfare and Institutions Code, abandonment, abduction, isolation, financial abuse, or neglect of an elder or dependent adult, in violation of this section, where that abuse results in death or great bodily injury, shall be punished by not more than one year in a county jail, by a fine of not more than five thousand dollars ($5,000), or by both that fine and imprisonment. If a mandated reporter intentionally conceals his or her failure to report an incident known by the mandated reporter to be abuse or severe neglect under this section, the failure to report is a continuing offense until a law enforcement agency specified in paragraph (1) of subdivision (b) of Section 15630 of the Welfare and Institutions Code discovers the offense.
  • (i) For purposes of this section, "dependent adult" shall have the same meaning as in Section 15610.23.
  • 15631. (a) Any person who is not a mandated reporter under Section 15630, who knows, or reasonably suspects, that an elder or a dependent adult has been the victim of abuse may report that abuse to a long-term care ombudsman program or local law enforcement agency when the abuse is alleged to have occurred in a long-term care facility.
  • (b) Any person who is not a mandated reporter under Section 15630, who knows, or reasonably suspects, that an elder or a dependent adult has been the victim of abuse in any place other than a long-term care facility may report the abuse to the county adult protective services agency or local law enforcement agency.
  • 15632. (a) In any court proceeding or administrative hearing, neither the physician-patient privilege nor the psychotherapist-patient privilege applies to the specific information reported pursuant to this chapter.
  • (b) Nothing in this chapter shall be interpreted as requiring an attorney to violate his or her oath and duties pursuant to Section 6067 or subdivision (e) of Section 6068 of the Business and Professions Code, and Article 3 (commencing with Section 950) of Chapter 4 of Division 8 of the Evidence Code.