Our elderly population constitutes one of our greatest resources. Their knowledge and experience are invaluable, as are the goods and services they use which fuel our local economy. Unfortunately, they are also some of the most vulnerable members of our society when it comes to injury and, sadly, abuse.
Elderly Abuse Laws
When we talk of elderly abuse, we are really talking about a broad field. Abuse can constitute “normal” crimes, like battery, committed upon an elderly. It can also mean crimes that are unique to the elderly population, like nursing home abuse. Like many states, Florida has a number of laws that deal with abuse of the elderly.
Florida’s laws do not just carry heightened penalties for the abuse of the elderly, but also for the neglect of the elderly. In other words, in many cases, unintentional but negligent acts which harm the elderly can run afoul of elder protection laws. This can include:
- The failure to provide for an elderly person’s basic needs like food, cleanliness, medicine, or basic supervision
- The failure to make a “reasonable effort” to protect an elderly person from neglect.
Although elderly abuse laws are criminal laws, they can have an effect on a civil case, as well. In cases where an elderly person has been injured or abused by someone, the existence of Florida’s elderly protection laws can often be persuasive in civil personal injury cases.
In many situations it may even allow for the providing of punitive damages by a jury.
Nursing Home Abuse Laws
Perhaps no seniors are more vulnerable than those who we entrust to a nursing home or long-term care facility. We charge such facilities with the duty to care for, feed, and often treat medically our elderly relatives. These facilities serve as lifestyle communities, providing programming and events, as well as medical and nursing care, administration of medicines, and often, medical therapy. Nursing homes often care for the elderly who need care and treatment that we can not provide for them ourselves.
In recognition of this heightened duty, and the vulnerability of the elderly and their families, Florida has enacted what is known as a Nursing Home Bill of Rights.
Some of these rights are more general, such as the right to be treated “fairly and with the fullest measure of dignity,” while others are more tangible, such as providing the elderly the right to manage their own financial affairs and to provide an accounting of bills and expenses to the elderly resident.
Many of these rights come into play in a lawsuit for personal injuries when they are ignored or violated by a nursing home. Some of these include:
- The right to health care and support services
- The right to be informed of their own medical condition, and of any planned medical treatment
- The right to be free from restraints or limitation of movement unless ordered by a doctor
- The right to be free from mental or physical abuse
- The right to privacy in medical treatment, communications, and in their private affairs.
Lawsuits for Violations
Florida law provides that anybody injured by a violation of these rights has a right to bring a private lawsuit against a facility. This is in addition to any already recognized laws that may cover such injuries. So, for example, a nursing home that neglects an elderly person may be liable for negligence, as well as violation of the patient’s nursing home rights. An elderly person neglected by a physician may have a suit in malpractice, as well as violation of the bill of rights.
Both the state and federal governments require routine inspections and evaluations of nursing homes and long term care facilities. Although private citizens can not enforce these rights, poor reports or evaluations can often be powerful evidence in cases where victims allege that a nursing home has injured them, or that the home is not abiding by its obligations under the bill of rights.
Documenting nursing home injuries and abuses can be difficult. We are not there monitoring our loved ones every minute, and may be left to rely upon the versions of any incident that are provided by the nursing home itself—hardly a neutral party.
Nursing homes may have their own surveillance or video systems, but there is no law that requires the home turn those recordings over to you, outside of a lawsuit. Sadly, the victims themselves may not be in a position to fully or accurately retell what has happened to them or how an injury occurred.
There is no law that prohibits your private recording of your loved one in a nursing home. The home does not have to allow you to install any cameras into their facility, but many portable cameras that do not need to be wired into the facility are available that will do the job.
There are some limitations. The camera would only be able to record your loved one’s private room—recordings of other residents or of public areas in the facility, should not be used. Incidents of medical malpractice may not be picked up on video.
If you suspect that a loved one is being abused or neglected, and the events are in the resident’s room, a recording can go a long way to showing liability.
Florida has an abuse hotline, 800-962-2873 for those who feel they or their loved ones have been mistreated or are a victim of abuse.
If you are elderly or suspect that an elderly relative has been abused or injured as a result of negligence in a nursing home or otherwise, let the laws designed to protect the elderly help you. Find attorneys that understand the unique needs of the elderly population. Call the injury attorneys of Brill & Rinaldi today for a free consultation to discuss your case.