Every year, millions of elderly Americans suffer abuse at the hands of relatives, friends, caretakers, scam artists or other people they trust, yet less than 20% of this abuse is reported to the authorities.
At Levin Papantonio, we are dedicated to helping elders and their loved ones who have been the victims of intentional or negligent abuse -- whether the abuse is physical, emotional or financial.
What is Elder Abuse
Elder abuse is any knowing, intentional or negligent act by a caregiver or any other person that causes harm or a serious risk of harm to a vulnerable adult. When a family member places a loved one in a nursing home, assisted living facility, or elderly care facility, they count on personalized, professional care.
Unfortunately, neglect and abuse are all too common. When a loved one is taken advantage of in their vulnerable state, it can often go undetected and becomes a devastating revelation when finally brought to light.
Elder abuse can be physical, financial, or mental. Look for the following types of signs if you believe your loved one may be suffering abuse or neglect:
- A caregiver who changes social or health care providers frequently, or who refuses to apply for outside economic aid or services for the senior
- A caregiver who isolates the senior from the outside world, friends or relatives
- Abnormally pale complexion
- Abrupt changes in a will or other financial documents
- Absence of food, water, heat or ventilation
- Absence of needed dentures, eyeglasses, hearing aids, walkers or wheelchairs
- Animal or insect infestations
- Bedsores, skin rashes, infections or soiled bandages
- Bruises in a pattern that would suggest restraints
- Confusion and disorientation, which may be the result of malnutrition
- Dehydration, evidenced by low urinary output, dry and fragile skin, dry and sore mouth, apathy, mental confusion or lack of energy
- Emotional distress such as crying or depression
- Excessive and sudden weight loss
- Fear of the caregiver
- Fecal/urine odors
- Fleas, lice, or dirt on the elder or in the elder's room
- Improper clothing for the weather
- Nightmares or difficulty sleeping
- Open wounds, cuts, bruises, or welts
- Overcharging for services or products
- Poor personal hygiene or other unattended health problems
- Signs of medical mismanagement, including empty or unmarked bottles of outdated prescriptions
- Sudden loss of appetite
- Theft of money or property
- Torn clothing or broken personal items
- Unexplained withdrawals or unusual activity in bank accounts
- Using a person’s property or possessions without permission
Who Can Bring a Nursing Home or Elder Abuse Claim
A family member, guardian, or close loved one who feels abuse may be taking place can report it, and consult an attorney on behalf of the elderly person being abused. The victim may not be able or willing to report the abuse, and it can only be stopped when the abusers have been brought to justice.
There are avenues one can take when abuse is suspected, but all are sensitive and should be handled with care out of respect to the victim. It is vital to speak with an attorney familiar with elder abuse. Many times, your case can be dealt with outside of the courtroom; but time is always of the essence in order to receive the most favorable outcome and protect the person being abused.
Who Can Be Sued for Nursing Home & Elder Abuse
In the case of a nursing home or other elderly care facility, the owners of the business providing the care (generally a corporation) and the persons performing the abuse can be sued if it can be shown they violated their duty to provide safe care to the elder and the violation led to harm.
How Long Do I Have to Bring a Nursing Home & Elder Abuse Case
All legal claims are subject to limitations periods in which they must be pursued. This means if a case is not brought within a specific time period after the harmful act, it may be barred forever even if it is valid.
There are numerous factors that determine how short of a period you have to file a lawsuit arising out of elder abuse, such as: (1) where an injury or death occurred; (2) the type of injury sustained; (3) whether the abuser is an individual, company or governmental entity; and (4) when you became aware, or should have become aware, of the injury.
The most important thing is that you immediately seek legal advice when you become aware of a potential injury, even if you decide not to hire a lawyer. We will provide you a confidential and free consult, even if you decide not to hire us. This way you at least can determine your rights, and how long you have to pursue those rights.
What Must I Prove to Succeed
In order to prove that abuse or neglect took place in a nursing home or other elderly care facility, it must be proven that the facility or company conducted their duties or care in a manner that was unreasonable under the circumstances or fell below the general standard of care. Items like photos, medical records, time frames, witnesses, and personal accounts often prove valuable as evidence.
If you retain our services, we will ensure all of these things are reviewed and gathered appropriately and that everything necessary for your case is accounted for. Again, time is of the essence in collecting evidence; and if the facility is concerned about litigation, you can be sure it will act quickly to secure evidence it deems favorable to it.
How Do I Prove My Claim
Discovering elder abuse and neglect can be tricky, which is why it often goes undetected. At the first sign of any sort of abuse or neglect, no matter how small it may seem at the time, documentation is crucial. Often the victim will not want to come forward with information about the abuse as it can be embarrassing or painful to discuss.
By documenting every detail of encountered abuse, you can provide a truthful timeline, explanation, account, and image of the wrongdoing that has taken place. While we conduct a thorough investigation in all cases we accept, it is extremely helpful when the victim or victim’s representative has documented the facts to the extent possible.
How Long Will it Take to Resolve My Claim
Each case is unique, which is why the only true answer for your situation can come when you speak with an attorney to discuss the details of your situation. Having a talented and aggressive attorney who knows elder abuse law and will fight for you and your loved one will make all the difference.
Generally speaking, elder abuse cases often include complex medical issues, numerous witnesses, lots of records, and overlapping investigations by various agencies. This can lengthen the process as compared to a typical personal injury suit. There also is a “pre-lawsuit” process in Florida (and in other states as well) that requires additional time. That said, elder abuse cases are more often settled before trial than at or after trial, and the process generally takes one to three years to resolve.
In choosing a lawyer it is important to know whether he or she has actually taken elder abuse cases to trials in the past. Lawyers who try cases successfully are better able to analyze the case from a jury perspective and have earned the respect of the lawyers on the other side of your case. If the other side knows you have a skilled trial advocate, your case is more likely to be taken seriously. Our nursing home attorneys have years of successful trial experience and will be happy to discuss that experience with you.
Other Helpful Elder Abuse Contacts in Florida
If you suspect abuse or neglect, it is a good idea to report it to the responsible state agencies in addition to contacting a lawyer.
Agency for Healthcare Administration (AHCA) is involved in licensing the nursing home facilities and it investigates complaints of neglect and abuse. AHCA investigates specific incidents and also looks at the level of care provided to all residents throughout the facility. If AHCA finds deficiencies, it will cite them and the facility must create a plan of correction. AHCA then returns several months later to ensure everything has been corrected. AHCA also has the right to fine nursing homes, prohibit the admission of new patients, restrict Medicaid/Medicare reimbursement, or even shut the facility down. AHCA generates a report of its investigations into abuse or neglect. It is always a good idea to report suspected abuse or neglect to AHCA. This organization also maintains an excellent website that rates Florida’s nursing homes, including a “watch list” of nursing homes with a history of problems. The site also includes important information on choosing a nursing home and alternatives to nursing homes. It may be accessed by clicking Nursing Home Guide. AHCA: (888) 419-3456 ( toll free).
Adult Protective Services (“APS”) is part of the Department of Department of Children and Families. It investigates allegations of abuse and negligence against elderly or disabled citizens. APS investigates the individual perpetrators of abuse and recommends appropriate action against those individuals’ licenses or certifications to prevent future abuse by those specific individuals. State agencies like APS exist to help. Do not hesitate to contact them if you suspect abuse. APS: (800) 962-2873 (toll free)