Elder Abuse: A Growing Problem in Oregon

August 17, 2015 | By R. Brendan Dummigan of Pickett Dummigan LLP

Authored by Ashley McDonald, J.D.

In Oregon, those sixty-five years of age or older are considered elders. As the number of elderly residents rises, so do reports of elder abuse. In 2014 alone there were 30,000 reports of elder abuse in Oregon. Elders are an especially vulnerable segment of society due to being perceived by abusers as frail, being reliant on others, being in social isolation, or being too ashamed or afraid to report crimes against them. Fortunately, Oregon has laws that help elders who have suffered from elder abuse.

Elder abuse can be financial or physical. Financial elder abuse is a more common, and unfortunately, rapidly growing problem. Physical elder abuse is relatively rare, but is very serious as the consequences can be deadly.

Financial elder abuse occurs when someone, whether that person be a family member, friend or acquaintance, a caregiver, or even a complete stranger “wrongfully” takes money or property from an elder. So what does “wrongful” mean? It can be something as simple as stealing, embezzling, or operating a scam targeting the elderly. It can also include not allowing the elder access to money to which they are entitled. Wrongful can also include taking money or property from an elder by using “undue influence.”

“Undue influence” is a legal concept that requires a “confidential relationship” between the elder and the person who took the money or property. Generally, these “confidential relationships” involve a special degree of trust between the elder and another person or another person has a certain amount of power over the elder. A confidential relationship might exist if the elder relies on another person for assistance in managing their financial affairs, relies on their financial advice, or another person has power of attorney over the elder. Given the degree of trust and power that exists in confidential relationships, any gifts or money given by an elder while in a confidential relationship may be challenged as having been obtained by using undue influence. If a court finds that there was financial elder abuse, the gift, property, or money may be ordered returned to the elder or their estate and other damages might be awarded.

Physical elder abuse occurs when someone physically harms an elder or places the elder in danger. It can be committed by a family member, friend or acquaintance, a caregiver, or even a complete stranger and can occur anywhere. Physical abuse includes hitting, biting, scratching, slapping, kicking, burning, or other acts of physical violence. It can also include sexual assault or domestic violence. Negligently caring for an elderly person also constitutes physical elder abuse, whether the negligence occurred at home or in a nursing home or assisted living center. Malnutrition and dehydration, bedsores, injuries from falls or being dropped, and medication errors or withholding medication, are all examples of some types of negligent care-giving.

Oregon has taken an especially strong stance against elder abuse to allow victims of abuse to recover from their injuries. Oregon law allows economic damages (actual money lost) as well as damages for emotional distress and pain and suffering. Any damages awarded by a judge or a jury in an elder abuse lawsuit may be tripled. The victim of elder abuse will also be reimbursed for attorney’s fees.

If you or a loved one has been a victim of elder abuse, the problems might seem overwhelming. Our attorneys are experienced in helping those affected by elder abuse take back control and can advise you about your legal rights and tell you what remedies might be available. For a free consultation please call 503-405-8037.