Reporting California Elder Financial Abuses: Civil Matters, Criminal Matters – Or Both?

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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: Jul 15, 2021

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Description: Elder financial abuse cases can involve fraud and deception against the elderly or an adult who is dependent upon someone else. Just like abuse in nursing homes, adult day care facilities and in home health care, financial abuse against seniors is particularly egregious and the law sometimes allows for punitive damages; but is it a civil matter, a criminal matter – or both?

Civil, criminal – or both?

J. Niley Dorit, a California attorney whose practice represents those injured by financial abuse, says that these cases can encompass both. He explained:

There are parallel government agencies, including consumer fraud departments at the District Attorney’s offices throughout California that investigate these cases. They can, and do, bring criminal prosecutions under criminal statutes for some of the same conduct that can also end up being the basis of a civil, that is non-criminal, financial elder abuse case.

So yes, there definitely are criminal prosecutions that happen over these cases. Those are obviously in the most severe and egregious situations, but not many civil cases rise to that level. My office primarily handles the civil end. The criminal end is done by the state. However, there can be quite a bit of overlap in terms of both state prosecution and private civil cases.

Are punitive damages available?

Possibly, according to Dorit, who told us that elders get special protection under the law and they may be able to collect punitive damages and attorneys’ fees. He explained that one of the scenarios that he often sees involves trust funds. He explained:

Maybe it’s their pension fund, maybe they’ve put money in trust or maybe the family’s put some money in trust – and the elder essentially relies upon the trustee to do the right thing. Yet, unbeknownst to the elder, the trustee is either spending the money on themselves or taking the money and using it as collateral for risky investments, each of which is highly improper.

However, the elder may not know that’s going on until one or two years later when they realize that $10,000, $50,000 or $500,000 is missing from their trust. In that kind of a trust relationship, there are circumstances where you see an abuse of the money by the trustee and it’s tantamount to stealing from an elder.

If you are a loved is a victim of financial elder abuse, click here to contact an attorney to review your case free of charge.

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