Guide to Elder Abuse Compensation Claims
This article has been compiled as a guide to elder abuse compensation claims from the perspective of somebody who is a friend of, or related to, an abused elderly person. Although we have tried to make the article comprehensive, it is impossible to cover every imaginable scenario in which an elderly person may have been abused.
Consequently, if you believe that an elderly person has been abused and the information you need is not covered by this article, please do not hesitate to contact our legal advice helpline. We have considerable experience in compensation claims for the abuse of the elderly, and should be able to advise you on an appropriate course of action for the particular situation.
Identification and Disclosure of Elder Abuse
There are many different ways in which an elderly person can be abused. The generally accepted umbrella definition of elder abuse is “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 or violates human and civil rights”.
Identifying that there has been “a single or repeated act or lack of appropriate action” can often be difficult when the abused person is reluctant to disclose acts of abuse due to embarrassment, or because they fear retribution for speaking out about it.
Therefore, there are three accepted indicators for the identification and disclosure of elderly abuse:
- The disclosure of abuse by the victim
- Evident signs of abuse
- High risk of abuse
Research has shown that only a small percentage of abused elders will voluntarily disclose that they have been abused. A much higher proportion of elder abuse compensation claims have resulted from evident signs of abuse or a high risk of abuse being identified.
Types of Elder Abuse
We have categorised the most common types of elder abuse below, and some of the possible signs that may indicate an older person has been abused. Again, if the information you are seeking is not included below, please do not hesitate to contact out legal advice helpline.
Physical Abuse of the Elderly
Evidence that physical abuse of the elderly has taken place can often be the easiest to detect. Unexplained cuts, bruises, scratches and scars – or injuries that are not consistent with the explanation given – are all signs of possible abuse; as are burns from cigarettes or immersion in hot water, bed sores or hair loss from the victim having their hair pulled.
Abrasions on the wrists or ankles can be evidence of inappropriate restraint, while rapid weight loss or frequent illnesses can also be a sign of elder abuse. The administration of unnecessary medication or the incorrect dosage of medication is also considered to be physical abuse of the elderly – even if administered in error – as it demonstrates a breach in the duty of care owed to the elderly person.
Psychological Abuse of the Elderly
The psychological abuse of the elderly can take many forms. Verbal abuse, threats of physical violence and blaming victims for events outside of their control (i.e. incontinence) are just some of the ways in which an elderly person may be intimidated psychologically. Discrimination against elderly people because of their race, sex or sexual orientation has also been identified in elder abuse compensation claims.
Although harder to detect, an elderly person who has been psychologically abused may be frequently agitated, confused or demoralised. They may become tearful or show signs of paranoia, have disrupted sleeping patterns or an irregular appetite – leading to depression and feelings of hopelessness. One of the more identifiable signs of psychological abuse of the elderly is that their behaviour changes in the presence of certain people.
Sexual Abuse of the Elderly
Sexual abuse of the elderly can be both physical and psychological – and it can happen to both men and women. Evident signs of abuse can often include self-harming or injuries to the face, neck or chest. Trauma around the genitals, breasts, rectum or mouth can be a sign of sexual abuse of the elderly, as can the presence of a sexually transmitted disease.
As with psychological abuse of the elderly, a victim´s change of behaviour in the presence of certain people can indicate sexual abuse – particularly if they start to use more sexual language in the presence of their abuser, or language that they would not normally use in your presence. Alternatively, the victim may withdraw and prefer to spend time by themselves.
Financial Abuse of the Elderly
Financial abuse of the elderly is not an issue which is frequently associated with compensation for an abused elderly relative, because many people believe that a financial loss cannot be recovered through a personal injury claim. This is incorrect. Furthermore, in order to financially abuse a person, there is likely to have been some form of psychological pressure applied or exploitation of the victim.
Signs of financial abuse usually become evident when the victim suddenly has insufficient funds to pay their bills or a contrast is identified between the victim´s known income and their standard of living. A refusal to spend money or the unexplained disappearance of personal possessions can also be indicators that an elderly person is being financially abused.
Neglect of the Elderly
The neglect of the elderly is the type of elder abuse that most people will be familiar with because when it occurs in multi-patient healthcare facilities it often makes the news headlines. However, as well as abuse of the elderly occurring in nursing homes, hospitals and day centres, it can also take place in the victim´s own home.
Signs of elderly neglect can be something as simple as the lack of required aids (for example dentures or reading glasses), to more serious evidence of neglect such as soiled clothing, poor hygiene, malnutrition, or dehydration. The failure to ensure that an elderly person is taking medication at the correct time or in the correct quantities can also be considered neglect of the elderly.
PLEASE NOTE: It is possible that more than one form of abuse is occurring or that multiple signs of abuse are being demonstrated. If you are in any doubt about whether an elderly person is being abused, please speak with a solicitor on our legal advice helpline.
How to Report Abuse of the Elderly
How you report abuse of the elderly will depend on the circumstances in which the victim has been abused. In nursing homes, hospitals and day centres the person in charge is often the best person to speak with unless there is a threat of immediate physical harm – in which case you should call the emergency services.
Never, under any circumstance, confront the abuser. Nor should you touch or remove anything if you believe a crime has been committed. Your complaint will be investigated by the proper authorities and, if it is confirmed that “a single or repeated act or lack of appropriate action” has taken place, appropriate action will be taken.
Making Compensation Claims for the Abuse of the Elderly
Unlike the majority of personal injury claims in Ireland, compensation claims for the abuse of the elderly are not processed by the Injuries Board. This is because the Injuries Board´s mandate only allows it to process compensation claims for road traffic accidents, injuries at work and accidents that occur in places of public access (public liability claims).
Therefore you will require the services of a solicitor to guide you through the process of claiming compensation for an abused elderly relative or other older person who you are representing as a “next friend”. You solicitor will advise you on the specific course of action(s) that need to be followed depending on the nature of abuse that has occurred. However, elder abuse compensation claims often follow a similar route:
- Elder abuse compensation claims follow procedures similar to medical negligence claims – where an investigation will take place to establish how the abuse occurred and why it was allowed to continue.
- This process may also involve an enquiry and criminal proceedings. A criminal conviction is not necessary to make compensation claims for the abuse of the elderly, but your case will be strengthen if a conviction is forthcoming.
- Your solicitor will write to the person found responsible for the abuse, their employer or – where the abuse has taken place in a state-managed facility – the Health Service Executive (HSE), advising them that you are claiming compensation for an abused elderly relative or friend.
- Your solicitor will also engage medical experts to assess the physical and emotional harm that the elderly person has suffered in order to calculate how much compensation for an abused elderly relative or friend the victim is entitled to.
Provided that liability is conceded (which is more likely with a criminal conviction), your solicitor will start negotiations for a settlement of the claim to include compensation for the physical and emotional harm the elderly person has suffered, any costs associated with future medical attention and – in the event of financial abuse of the elderly – the recovery of any funds or possessions that may have been taken.
The purpose of compensation claims for the abuse of the elderly is not only about recovering compensation, but to get answers about how the abuse was allowed to occur. Often the answers – and an apology – can be more valuable to a plaintiff than any amount of compensation. There is little doubt that every victim of elder abuse would rather go without the money if the clock could be turned back or the abuse removed from their memories.
Time Limits for Elder Abuse Compensation Claims
In Ireland there is a time limit of two years in which to make compensation claims for the abuse of the elderly. The time limit only begins when a disclosure of abuse has been made by a victim or a complaint has been made to the appropriate authority, and the allegations of abuse are proven in an investigation. However, you do not need to wait until there is proof of abuse before speaking with a solicitor.
Once you suspect that an elderly relative or friend is being abused, naturally you will be upset and confused over how the abuse has been allowed to happen and why safeguards put in place to protect the elderly person were ineffective. A solicitor can guide you through the process of making a complaint and help with the collection of evidence to support compensation claims for the abuse of the elderly.
Legal Advice about Compensation for an Abused Elderly Relative or Friend
Elder abuse compensation claims are a very delicate subject to discuss. This is because compensation claims for the abuse of the elderly frequently concern a vulnerable member of your family or a friend who has been mistreated – either physically, emotionally or through neglect.
Speaking with a solicitor who has experience of elder abuse compensation claims can help you come to terms with what has happened. A solicitor can also arrange for a vulnerable person to be relocated or hospitalised so that they are removed from the risk of further abuse while an investigation is underway.
As mentioned above, you do not have to wait until there is proof of abuse before you seek legal advice about compensation for an abused elderly relative or friend and, if you have concerns about the treatment that an elderly person is receiving, you should speak with a solicitor at the earliest possible opportunity.