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Elder Abuse Laws by State

Understanding How Each State Differs

Quick Answer

The federal government has passed several laws to protect elderly U.S. citizens from exploitation, neglect, and abuse. However, those concerned about the mistreatment of loved ones should look at elder abuse laws by state. While federal laws serve as a baseline for the protection of older adults, state laws can vary greatly in their definitions of elder abuse, their additional protections and penalties, and more.

State Definitions of Elder Abuse and Neglect

Each state has its own standards for defining elder abuse and neglect, which can be broken down into two main parts: who is classified as an elder and what constitutes abuse or neglect.

Who Is Considered an Elder?

Senior citizens or elders are most commonly defined as adults aged 60 and over, or 65 and over. In addition, many states apply the same abuse laws to disabled adults of any age.

Generally, state laws addressing elder abuse qualify a victim as an elder in 1 of 3 ways:

  • They are an adult of a certain age (e.g., 60 or older).
  • They are an adult deemed physically or mentally vulnerable.
  • They are a vulnerable adult who is also of a certain age.

What Is Considered Abuse?

Generally, U.S. state laws use some common elements to define abuse.

Across the states, legal definitions of abuse often include:

  • The intention of the offender to commit the harmful act
  • Resulting harm or risk of harm to the victim
  • Harm that is physical, psychological, sexual, or financial

However, state laws also vary in how they define elder abuse.

Variations in elder abuse definitions by state may include:

  • Whether elder neglect is considered a form of elder abuse or a separate crime
  • Whether certain acts like abandonment are recognized as elder abuse
  • Whether or not elder abuse can only be committed by someone in a position of trust
  • Who qualifies as being in a position of trust

Experienced elder abuse lawyers can help victims navigate the broad variations between state laws.

Quick Facts About Elder Abuse State Laws

  • Some federal laws exist to protect the elderly, but the vast majority of elder protection comes from state laws.
  • How much compensation a victim receives in an elder abuse trial may partly depend on which state the trial takes place in.
  • All 50 states and the District of Columbia provide Adult Protective Services (APS) programs for victims.
  • In Florida, elder abuse can be a first-degree felony resulting in up to 30 years in prison.

State Elder Care Laws and Regulations

A regulation is a law created by government agencies that only applies to people who work directly with that agency. By contrast, a traditional law applies to everyone in the United States, but the traditional process of creating a new law is often long and complex.

Businesses that care for the elderly and accept Medicare or Medicaid are required to follow federal regulations regarding elder care. However, many states have extra regulations or stricter requirements than the federal guidelines.

Some businesses subject to elder care state regulations include:

  • Nursing homes & long-term care
  • Adult daycare
  • Assisted living
  • Retirement communities

These regulations may be created by a state agency that deals with matters affecting the elderly, by a health care agency, or by another relevant agency.

State Laws for Nursing Homes

Nursing homes provide care for some of the country’s most vulnerable elders. As such, both federal and state governments create regulations intended to protect nursing home residents and ensure quality care.

Common areas of nursing home regulation among states include:

  • Everyday care standards
  • Handling resident complaints
  • Licensing requirements for nursing home managers
  • Maximum staff turnover rates
  • Number of residents per nursing assistant or licensed nurse
  • Staff training standards

Federal law requires all nursing homes participating in Medicare and Medicaid to comply with quality of care rules under the Nursing Home Reform Act, but some states create additional regulations.

State Laws and Elder Abuse

Many states have laws that specifically criminalize the abuse, exploitation, and neglect of older adults, but these laws vary considerably.

Elder abuse state laws may be found in various legal codes, such as:

  • Business
  • Criminal
  • Probate
  • Welfare and institutions

Some variations on how states approach elder abuse include:

  • Qualifications for filing a lawsuit: Who can file suit in a case of elder abuse varies from state to state.
  • Elder abuse reporting laws: States have different rules and consequences regarding who is legally required to report elder abuse, what activities require reporting, and how they must be reported.
  • Speed of a trial: In some states, a judge may move a criminal case involving an elder up on the docket so that it is tried faster. This helps ensure that an elderly plaintiff who may also be in poor health has the best chance of benefitting from any awarded compensation.

Penalties for Elder Abuse

Punishments for elder abuse range widely between states. Some states such as Florida have serious penalties for elder abuse and neglect.

State penalties for elder abuse may vary in several ways:

  • Some states have increased penalties for victimizing older adults versus other adults.
  • In some states, elder abuse is a mandatory felony.
  • Different states have different limits on damages awarded in civil suits.

While there is no rule for how states determine the punishment for elder abuse, outside factors may influence their severity.

Elder Abuse State Laws and Elder Population

States with high proportions or numbers of older adults often create stricter and more expansive laws and regulations to protect the elderly from mistreatment. The penalties for elder abuse may also be harsher in these states.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 3 states with especially high elder populations are:

  • Florida: Florida has the highest percentage of elderly residents in the United States, with residents over 64 years old making up 17.6% of the population. Learn more about Nursing Home Abuse Laws and Attorneys in Florida.
  • Pennsylvania: With 15.6% of the population being 65 or older, Pennsylvania has the second-highest proportion of elderly residents.
  • California: California has the largest number of elderly residents, with over 8 million people aged 60 and over calling it home. Learn more about Nursing Home Abuse Laws and Attorneys in California.

Elder Abuse State Law Resources

Specific elder care regulations and elder abuse laws by state can be difficult to find and understand, but quality resources may help.

Elder abuse state law resources include:

  • A local ombudsman: An ombudsman is an advocate for nursing home residents. They can point victims toward state-specific resources and provide information on elder abuse laws by state.
  • Guide on U.S. State Mandatory Reporting Statutes: Stetson University’s Mandatory Reporting Status and Statutes PDF details elder abuse reporting laws by state.
  • The United States Department of Justice website: The department’s State Elder Abuse Statutes page provides general information on elder abuse state laws, searchable databases of specific state laws, and links to other useful resources.
  • The National Center on Elder Abuse (NCEA) State Laws page: The NCEA State Laws page provides general information and several other resources providing information on elder abuse state laws.

Find an Elder Abuse Lawyer

Experienced elder abuse lawyers have the specialized legal knowledge and experience needed to make a powerful case for victims in any state they operate in.

While there are many resources available to help victims of elder abuse look up state laws concerning the mistreatment of older adults, winning a trial or getting a fair settlement often depends on the work of a good elder abuse lawyer.

You do not need to face the daunting task of getting justice on your own. Get a free case review today to find out if you may be entitled to financial compensation for elder abuse or neglect.

Nursing Home Abuse Support Team

The Nursing Home Abuse Center (NHAC) was founded to bring justice to those affected by nursing home and elder abuse. Our mission is to educate and empower victims of abuse and their families to take a stand against this unlawful mistreatment. We work to return dignity back to those who have been broken down by nursing home abuse and neglect.

View 12 Sources
  1. Regents of the University of Minnesota. (2012). Nursing Home Regulations Plus. Retrieved November 25, 2019, from http://www.hpm.umn.edu/nhregsplus/NHRegs_by_State/By%20State%20Main.html
  2. The National Long-term Care Ombudsman Resource Center. (n.d.). Federal Laws & Regulations. Retrieved November 25, 2019, from https://ltcombudsman.org/library/fed_laws
  3. U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. (2018, July 20). Ombudsman. Retrieved November 25, 2019, from https://www.sec.gov/ombudsman
  4. McCann, Adam. (2018, December 4). States with the Best Elder-Abuse Protections. Retrieved November 25, 2019, from https://wallethub.com/edu/states-with-best-elder-abuse-protection/28754/
  5. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2019, May 28). Elder Abuse: Definitions. Retrieved November 25, 2019, from https://www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/elderabuse/definitions.html
  6. Elder Financial Abuse and Exploitation. (n.d.) Retrieved November 25, 2019, from https://elder.findlaw.com/elder-abuse/elder-financial-abuse-and-exploitation.html
  7. FAQ’s for Senior Citizens. (n.d.) Retrieved November 25, 2019, from https://www.seniorliving.org/life/senior-citizen/
  8. FamilyCare America, Inc. (n.d.). What Is Adult Day Care? Retrieved November 25, 2019, from http://www.caregiverslibrary.org/caregivers-resources/grp-caring-for-yourself/hsgrp-support-systems/what-is-adult-day-care-article.aspx
  9. National Center For State Courts. (2012). Prosecuting Elder Abuse Cases: Basic Tools and Strategies. Retrieved November 25, 2019, from https://www.bja.gov/Publications/NCSC-Prosecuting-Elder-Abuse-Cases-Basic-Tools-and-Strategies.pdf
  10. National Center on Elder Abuse. (n.d.). State Laws. Retrieved November 25, 2019, from https://ncea.acl.gov/What-We-Do/Policy/State-Laws.aspx
  11. State Elder Abuse Statutes. (n.d.). Retrieved November 25, 2019, from https://www.justice.gov/elderjustice/elder-justice-statutes-0
  12. The Florida Legislature. (2019). The 2019 Florida Statutes: Nursing Homes And Related Health Care Facilities. Retrieved November 25, 2019, from http://www.leg.state.fl.us/Statutes/index.cfm?App_mode=Display_Statute&Search_String=&URL=0400-0499/0400/Sections/0400.235.html
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