Elder abuse is a growing problem in the United States. Massachusetts has taken steps to protect seniors through a robust elder abuse reporting system.
The Centers for Disease Control define elder abuse as an intentional act or failure to act that results in harm or a risk of harm to an adult age 60 or older. Elder abuse can include physical abuse, sexual abuse, neglect, psychological abuse or financial abuse.
Voluntary and mandatory reporting
Massachusetts has a system that allows anyone to report when they think an elder is being abused. The Executive Office of Elder Affairs has a website and a hotline phone number people can call when they have witnessed signs of elder abuse. The website also has a good deal of information about elder abuse, and how to spot signs of it.
State law also lists certain types of professionals as mandatory reporters. When these professionals have reason to believe an older person is suffering or has died from abuse, they are required to report their suspicions to the authorities within 48 hours. The professionals covered by the law include doctors, coroners, therapists, police, firefighters and many more.
When elder abuse is discovered, the first and most pressing goal is to make the abuse stop, if possible. After that, there are a number of possible remedies, including the possibility of a civil lawsuit.
A personal injury lawsuit can be filed by the victim of the abuse. In the case of fatal abuse, the surviving family members may be able to recover damages through a wrongful death claim. These lawsuits can serve the cause of justice by holding abusers accountable, and encouraging others to behave ethically with older adults.
Of course, the best way to combat elder abuse is by working to prevent it from happening in the first case. Older adults and their loved ones can speak to lawyers with experience in elder law to learn about their options to protect vulnerable adults, including guardianship and conservatorship.