The California Legislature has recognized that the state has a special responsibility to protect elders because they are more subject to risks of abuse, neglect and abandonment and are all too frequently unable to obtain help and protection. Therefore, elder abuse has been designated a criminal as well as a civil matter for which there are special protections under California law.
Criminal Protection: Elder abuse is a crime punishable by fine and imprisonment. California Penal Code Section 368; California Welfare and Institutions Code Section 15656. An elder is any person 65 years of age or older. Any person who willfully causes or permits an elder to suffer, or inflicts thereon unjustifiable physical pain or mental suffering, or having the care or custody of an elder, willfully causes or permits the person or health of an elder to be injured, or willfully causes or permits an elder to be placed in a situation in which his or her person or health is endangered, is guilty of a crime. It is likewise a criminal offense for any person to violate any provision of law proscribing theft or embezzlement with respect to the property of an elder and for any person to falsely imprison an elder by use of violence, menace, fraud or deceit.
Civil Protection: California's Elder Abuse and Dependent Adult Civil Protection Act provides protection for elders from financial abuse, physical abuse and neglect. Under the Act, elder abuse is defined as (1) physical abuse, neglect, financial abuse, abandonment, isolation, abduction, or other treatment of an elder (anyone 65 or older) which results in physical harm or pain or mental suffering, or (2) a caregiver depriving an elder of goods or services necessary to prevent physical harm or mental suffering. California Welfare and Institutions Code Sections 15610.07.
Financial abuse includes situations where one or both of the following apply: (1) a person, including a caregiver or other trusted person, takes an elder’s money or property for wrongful use, or with intent to defraud; (2) a person gets property from an elder who lacks mental capacity and refuses in bad faith to return the property when the elder or his/her representative requests it. California Welfare and Institutions Code Sections 15610.30(a).
Physical abuse includes assault, battery, unreasonable physical constraint, deprivation of food or water, sexual assault, or inappropriate use of physical or chemical restraints. California Welfare and Institutions Code Sections 15610.63.
Neglect includes failure by a caregiver to provide food, clothing or shelter, to assist in personal hygiene, to provide medical care, to protect the elder from safety hazards, or to prevent malnutrition/dehydration. California Welfare and Institutions Code Sections 15610.57.
As an incentive to enable interested persons to engage attorneys to take up the cause of abused elderly persons, the Legislature specifically authorized the award of attorney's fees and costs in elder abuse cases. California Welfare and Institutions Code Sections 15657.