Jeffrey Johnson is a legal writer with a focus on personal injury. He has worked on personal injury and sovereign immunity litigation in addition to experience in family, estate, and criminal law. He earned a J.D. from the University of Baltimore and has worked in legal offices and non-profits in Maryland, Texas, and North Carolina. He has also earned an MFA in screenwriting from Chapman Univer...

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UPDATED: Sep 17, 2009

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Mistreatment against elders, those ages 65 and older, and dependents, those ages 18 to 64, comes in various forms. To find out the most common types of mistreatment in nursing homes, assisted living facilities and in-home care situations in California, we asked J. Niley Dorit, an elder law attorney whose practice consists of elder and dependent neglect, nursing home abuse, medical malpractice and general personal injury cases. Here’s what he told us in a recent interview:

California law protects two groups of people – elders and dependents. Elders are people age 65 and older and they automatically get protection in a care or custodial setting. The other group consists of people aged 18 to 64 if they are dependent – meaning that there is something physically, emotionally or mentally disabling to them and they have to be dependent upon others.

Tips on recognizing and dealing with mistreatment

Dorit told us that many patients may be suffering from dementia or Alzheimer’s disease and may not be able to communicate. He provided the following tips on how to recognize and deal with mistreatment:

  • Look for changes in health. If [an elder or dependent person] is injured or their health is failing from neglect, it’s important to find out if they are losing weight or if their medications are actually being ordered at their pharmacy.
  • Recognize classic symptoms. Even a cursory examination of the resident’s body can reveal problems. Make sure that the resident or the patient looks okay and is acting according to their usual baseline of behavior. Take a look and make sure there aren’t any bruises, wounds or what we call decubitus ulcers (bedsores) developing.
  • Be proactive. Be proactive in terms of looking for those types of things. If there are sudden unexpected changes in behavior or health such as multiple falls or wounds that don’t seem to be addressed, then those are warning signs / red flags that need to be looked in terms of making sure that the resident or patient is getting proper care. If they’re not, it would be appropriate to speak with an attorney about doing an investigation.

What causes of action are available?

A great deal of Dorit’s practice focuses on elder care abuse. He explained what causes of action are generally available to victims:

First and foremost, nursing home abuse cases will have a claim under the California statutory law protecting those groups of people who are the victims of negligence or abuse. When it turns out that there is a pattern of neglect, even if an injury is not serious, it can still result in a serious legal case.

We also often include a traditional claim for personal injuries, and in my office, we also usually include claims under the California Consumer Legal Remedy Act where California consumers have a right to receive the fair benefit of services for which they contract. If they go to a skilled nursing or residential care facility, they’re entitled to the reasonable services for which they paid.