Elder abuse and child abuse are both punishable as either a misdemeanor or a felony, depending on the severity of the act.
Types of Elder Abuse
Elder abuse is when a person takes advantage of or harms an elderly individual physically, emotionally, sexually, financially, or by neglect, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Each of these types of elder abuse is a different category of crime depending on the type and severity of abuse. If the severity of abuse rises to the level of a criminal act, the district attorney will charge the abuser with either a misdemeanor or a felony.
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Felony vs. Misdemeanor
Felonies and misdemeanors are both types of crimes. However, in the case of elder abuse, a felony charge occurs when a more serious crime was perpetrated against an elderly person. Both types of crimes carry different punishments and penalties, ranging from fines to life imprisonment. Additionally, felonies and misdemeanors have “degrees” of crimes within them, which will depend on the exact facts and circumstances of the elder abuse case.
As examples, misdemeanors are minor assaults, first-offense domestic assaults, and negligent acts. Felonies are malicious assaults and first and second-degree murders.
Felony Elder Abuse
While every elder abuse case does not rise to the level of a felony, there are circumstances under which elder abuse will receive a felony charge. The district attorney of the area in which the crime occurred has the ultimate power to make the determination if an elder abuse case is a felony or misdemeanor charge.
In order to receive a felony charge, the elder abuse must have been severe. The nursing home staff member must have committed an abuse either physically, emotionally, or sexually in such a way that the conduct would have caused bodily harm or even death. Regarding financial abuse against the elderly, if the amount of financial loss to a nursing home resident due to the actions of a staff member rises to a specific amount, a district attorney will likely charge the abuser with a felony.
In cases involving great bodily harm, the key factor regarding the determination of the crime is whether the actions caused direct endangerment to the elderly person or created a likelihood of endangerment. No requirement exists that the elderly person was actually harmed in any way. The law only requires that great bodily harm could have occurred as a result of the actions of the nursing home staff. As an example, if a nursing home staff member failed to provide food, water, or medication to an elderly resident, they may receive a charge of felony elder abuse.
Misdemeanor Elder Abuse
Negligent acts by nursing home staff towards their elderly residents can receive misdemeanor criminal charges. Criminal negligence is greater than ordinary negligence and rises above a simple failure to give reasonable care towards elderly residents. Instead, criminal negligence is so unreasonable, uncaring, or inappropriate that it shows a wanton disregard for human life.
Elderly residents in nursing homes rely almost completely upon staff for their basic needs such as food, water, medicine, and personal care. When the nursing home staff fails to provide medications, help residents so that they do not fall, withhold food or water, or acts in any way that endangers the resident’s life, the staff member’s actions are criminally negligent. In these cases, a district attorney will charge the nursing home staff member with a misdemeanor elder abuse charge.
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Elder Abuse Penalties
Penalties for elder abuse depend on the facts and circumstances of the case and the charge determined by the district attorney. Misdemeanor elder abuse charges can carry a fine up to $1,000, summary probation, up to a year in jail, and a mandatory court-approved educational program.
Felony elder abuse penalties are much more severe and include fines up to $10,000, completion of an educational program, formal probation, a permanent record of any injury or death that occurred, and prison time. The amount of prison time depends on the injuries suffered by the elderly resident.
Contact a Nursing Home Lawyer
If your elderly loved one suffered any kind of abuse in a nursing home, you may have the right to bring a felony or misdemeanor case against the person that committed the abuse. Contact Pintas & Mullins Law Firm at (800) 201-3999 to help you ensure the protection of your legal rights.