Senior citizens in Los Angeles are vulnerable to scams, crimes, and harassment. Here’s how a local senior citizen legal services program can help.
Do you need senior citizen legal protection?
A senior citizen in California is anyone over the age of 65, a time to enjoy the fruits of a life of labor and sacrifice and have the respect of a society that recognizes life-long contributions.
As a senior in Los Angeles County, you are now more vulnerable to any number of scams, crimes, harassment, emotional stress and other injustices as well as potential injuries – just because you are an elder citizen.
Typical issues facing elders include age-related job discrimination, lack of access to medical treatment, vulnerability to abuse of all kinds including physical, mental, emotional and social, and society’s misconceptions of your ability/disability just because of age.
Your life as a senior citizen is now regulated by local, state and federal laws. You rely on the government for income, possibly housing and medical care. And you may find it difficult or confusing to work with the many different agencies involved, especially if you have some problem or grievance you need help with.
Many senior citizens decide they want to make a will to leave their possessions to their loved ones. Some want to move, and both sell and buy property. Other seniors have trouble with their landlord and feel they are not being treated fairly or feel they are living in unsafe conditions. They may face eviction or loss of their homes.
Job-related stress and unfairness are typical concerns for many seniors. They may be passed over for a promotion or treated differently than other workers. They may even have been fired without understanding exactly why.
Health insurance is a problem for may elders because they are not receiving their entitled benefits from Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, Supplemental Security Income, or the Veteran’s Administration. They may not be getting the pension they expected – and paid for.
Personal issues for elders are everywhere. They may need medical attention more frequently. They may need to care for others in their family. They may have problems with visitation rights for grandchildren if their children divorce or separate. They may be going to a nursing home or retirement home against their will. They may be harassed by bill collectors. The list goes on and on.
California recognizes seniors as a “protected party”
Citizens in California who reach age 65 are considered a “protected party.” This has significance for seniors because not only do they have protection from many cases of abuse, but that protection comes with more severe penalties for those guilty of the abuse.
Civil Code 3345b is a statue that gives seniors “significantly elevated damages” if a judge believes that a senior was targeted due to their vulnerability.
Those elevated damages can be three times the normal penalty for a similar charge. The statute states that the court “may impose a fine, civil penalty or other penalty, or other remedy in an amount up to three times greater than authorized by the statute, or, where the statute does not authorize a specific amount, up to three times greater than the amount the trier of fact would impose in the absence of that affirmative finding.”
A qualified attorney who is experienced with elder law can use this statute as well as legal precedents in other cases too often get cases resolved out of court because the threat of penalty is so large.
Someone who cheats or steals from a senior citizen will think twice knowing they might have to pay not only what they stole but three times that amount if found guilty, and they are ready to settle quickly.
California has elder abuse laws
California’s “elder abuse” laws cover a wide variety of crimes and adverse activities against seniors. These issues are addressed by California’s elder abuse statute Penal Code 368 PC and include acts such as physical abuse, emotional abuse causing mental suffering, neglect, and endangerment, and financial exploitation.
Physical abuse against a senior citizen involved the use of physical force that is likely to result in physical pai8n, impairment or injury. Typical examples include hitting, beating, pushing, kicking, slapping and burning. The charge can also come from excessive physical restraints or drugs or holding someone against their will.
Emotional abuse or psychological abuse is an act that causes emotional distress, anguish or pain. Examples are verbal abuse, intimidation, humiliation, threats or insults, and harassment.
Neglect is defined as a caregiver’s failure to fulfill his or her duty to provide the care needed by an elderly person. This applies to individuals and to nursing homes and other care facilities.
Neglect can be either active (intentionally withholds care) or passive (unable to fulfill duties because of stress or lack of resources, etc.).
Financial abuse covers a wide range of crimes that defraud senior citizens in some way. Examples are theft, cashing checks without authorization, forging signatures, misusing money or possessions, and misusing power of attorney or guardianship.
Penalties for elder abuse can be heavy
Under California Penal Code 368 PC, penalties for elder abuse can be significant and depend on whether the abuse is a misdemeanor or a felony. Elder abuse in California law is called a “wobbler” meaning prosecutors can charge abuse either way. The most significant elements in the decision to go one way or another are the facts of each case and the criminal history of the defendant.
Misdemeanor elder abuse can result in informal probation, a one-year jail sentence, a fine of $6,000 or $10,000 (repeated offense), restitution, and possibly counseling.
Felony elder abuse can result in two to four years in state prison.
In addition to elder abuse crimes, California recognizes other crimes of similar nature, either because they share elements with elder abuse or are often committed with elder abuse.
California Penal Code 242 PC battery refers to the willful and unlawful use of force or violence upon another person. If committed against an elder person, the charge could be both battery and elder abuse.
Penal Code 261 PC rape is nonconsensual sexual intercourse and if accomplished with an elder through use of force or threats, could result in both charges of rape and elder abuse.
Killing an elder person could result in charges of elder abuse and either murder (Penal Code 187 PC murder) or manslaughter (Penal Code 192 PC involuntary manslaughter).
If an elder person is threatened with harm, placed in fear, and actually harmed, the charge could be elder abuse and criminal threats (Penal Code 422 PC criminal threats).
These are just a few of the kinds of abuses that threaten senior citizens in California. When you think of the extent of such abuse, you may want to think about the legal protection you might need if it happens to you.