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What Are the Criminal Penalties for Older Adult Abuse?

By Christopher Coble, Esq. | Last updated on

The Department of Justice estimates that one in every ten seniors is abused yearly, but only one out of every 23 cases of abuse is reported to the authorities. This could be a combination of the decline in cognitive abilities of older adults and the lack of recognition of the signs of older adult abuse.

Sometimes older adults do not see the signs of financial exploitation, abuse from nursing home staff, or even abuse from family members and caregivers. The range of abuse can stretch from physical abuse to causing mental suffering to financial abuse.

Once they get wind of older adult abuse, adult protective services and law enforcement takes allegations seriously. These cases can go to court, and state and federal statutes impose serious penalties for abuse of dependent adults and older adults. There is a range of misdemeanor and felony charges, and penalties can include county jail time or state prison.

State Safeguards for Older Adults

Many states have enacted specific older adult abuse laws. Some of these laws criminalize older adult abuse specifically, while others add enhanced penalties for crimes that target seniors.

An example of this is embezzlement. There are many forms this financial crime can take, but embezzlement from a senior person has a specific definition — and punishment.

Examples of State Elder Abuse Laws

New York has a "Granny Law" enacted in 2008. This law says assaulting someone over 65 years of age is a second-degree assault. This law only applies if the assailant is at least 10 years younger.

Second-degree assault is a felony in the Empire State, carrying a possible two to seven-year prison sentence.

Florida, unsurprisingly, also has strict codes banning abuse, aggravated abuse, and neglect of an older adult person or adult with a disability.

Typically, abuse must cause "great bodily harm, permanent disability, or permanent disfigurement." Even if it doesn’t, abuse of an older adult is a third-degree felony.

This is punishable by:

  • Five years in prison
  • Five years probation
  • $5,000 fine

Older adult neglect can be a second-degree felony. This gets you:

  • 15 years behind bars
  • 15 years probation
  • $10,000 in fines

Federal Measures

To protect senior citizens, Congress passed the Elder Justice Act (EJA) in 2010. This is part of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.

The EJA set new reporting requirements at long-term care facilities. This applies to:

  • Owners
  • Operators
  • Employees
  • Health care staff
  • Managers
  • Agents
  • Contractors

This law also imposes penalties for failure to report older adult abuse. It also protects care providers and staff who do report abuse from retaliation.

Failing to report older adult abuse is serious. It can warrant civil penalties of up to $200,000 or $300,000 if that failure to report either:

  • Increased harm to the victim
  • Resulted in great bodily injury or harm to another victim

Facilities and their owners can face up to $200,000 in fines and an end to federal assistance for retaliating against reporting individuals.

Protect Loved Ones or a Dependent Person from Physical Harm

Older adult abuse is serious. If you are aware of a situation that is threatening or dangerous, call 911 or the local police immediately.

And be sure you're familiar with the Elder Abuse Suspicion Index (EASI), so you can spot the warning signs of older adult abuse.

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