Liability for Elder Abuse

Personal Injury

Studies show that as many as 10% of all residents of nursing homes and other elder care facilities have been subjected to abuse or neglect. While elder abuse is often unreported, seniors and their family members can take action against corporations that employ abusive staff members or that permit the neglect of elderly patients.

What Is Elder Abuse?

The World Health Organization defines elder abuse as “a single or repeated act, or lack of appropriate action, occurring within any relationship where there is an expectation of trust, which causes harm or distress to an older person.”[1]

The phrase “expectation of trust” in that definition is important. Within a home, elder abuse can be caused by family members who are taking care of their elderly parents or grandparents, or by caretakers who have been hired to help elderly family members with their daily activities.

Institutions that have a position of trust involving the elderly include nursing homes, assisted-living facilities, eldercare facilities, hospitals, and other businesses that serve elderly patients or residents. They have a position of trust because they are paid to care for the elderly, not to abuse them.

Elder abuse can consist of:

  •   Physical abuse
  •   Physical neglect
  •   Sexual abuse
  •   Emotional abuse
  •   Emotional neglect
  •   Financial misconduct

All forms of elder abuse can be very harmful to seniors who are no longer in a position to defend themselves against abusive behavior.

What Is the Difference Between Physical Abuse and Physical Neglect?

Physical abuse in nursing homes and similar facilities is typically committed by overworked aides who become frustrated working with an elderly population. Patients with dementia may have difficult personalities. Furthermore, disabilities and infirmities may prevent patients from following an aide’s instructions.

Workers who engage in physical abuse hit, slap, or pinch patients, pull their arms and legs, throw objects at them, or treat them roughly when moving them out of bed or into wheelchairs. Unexplained or repeated bruising, coupled with dismissive explanations for the bruises, might trigger suspicion that an elderly relative is being abused.

Physical neglect occurs when workers fail to provide the care that elderly patients need. Failing to turn patients who are confined to bed, for example, can result in painful bedsores. Allowing a patient to sit in a chair all day can produce back pain, decreased hip mobility, pressure ulcers, venous thrombosis, and other health conditions.

Failing to give adequate meals or liquids to elderly patients is another form of physical neglect that can lead to serious health consequences. Depriving seniors of adequate medical care is a common form of neglect in some facilities. Staff members often ignore symptoms until a health condition causes serious harm, rather than assuring that a doctor examines and treats a patient before a health condition becomes incurable.

Are Seniors Vulnerable to Sexual Abuse?

Sexual abuse of patients occurs surprisingly often in nursing homes.[2] While female patients are typically targeted, men are also victims of sexual abuse in nursing homes.[3]

Sexual abuse can be committed by facility staff or by other residents. Nursing homes and elder care facilities have a duty to monitor their residents to assure that they are not being subjected to sexual abuse. When other residents cause the problem, nursing homes have a responsibility to end the abuse, not to turn their backs on the problem and pretend it isn’t happening.

How Are Seniors Emotionally Abused?

Staff members of facilities that care for the elderly engage in emotional abuse when they taunt, insult, ridicule, mock, belittle, or threaten their patients. Emotional abuse also includes isolating patients by refusing to interact with them, by failing to include them in group activities, and by denying them access to visitors.

Most emotional abuse is unreported. It is also more difficult to quantify the harm caused by emotional abuse than physical abuse. No emotional abuse should ever be tolerated. When emotional abuse causes provable psychological harm, residents and their families can pursue remedies with the help of personal injury lawyers.

What Are the Remedies for Elder Abuse?

Every state has a Long-Term Care Ombudsman who acts as an advocate for elderly residents of care facilities. The Ombudsman can provide information about local enforcement agencies that may be able to help residents prevent continuing abuse.

Elderly residents who have been harmed by abuse can also seek a remedy in court. Regulatory agencies may or may not take action against nursing homes and other care facilities. Lawsuits, on the other hand, get the attention of a facility’s corporate owner.

Mistreated patients can sue for compensation resulting from physical injuries, adverse health conditions, and emotional distress that results from abuse. In addition to traditional avenues for relief from harm caused by intentional and negligent acts, many states have enacted laws that provide additional civil remedies for elder abuse.

The legal theories that support elder abuse claims and the available remedies vary from state to state, but every state allows elderly victims to seek compensation when a resident or patient has been harmed by abuse or neglect. A nursing home lawyer can advise family members about the remedies that are available under state and city law.


[1] “Elder Abuse.” World Health Organization, World Health Organization, 8 June 2018,

[2] Teaster, P B, et al. “The Sexual Victimization of Older Women Living in Nursing Homes.” Current Neurology and Neuroscience Reports., U.S. National Library of Medicine, 2 Sept. 2015,

[3] Teaster, P B, et al. “From behind the Shadows: a Profile of the Sexual Abuse of Older Men Residing in Nursing Homes.” Current Neurology and Neuroscience Reports., U.S. National Library of Medicine, 2007,