With the average cost of residential nursing home care now topping $80,000 per year, you (like many) may have helped an elderly parent or other relative seek one-on-one caregiving assistance at home to avoid a nursing home placement. While this arrangement can often benefit someone who requires constant supervision or companionship but wishes to remain in his or her home, the isolation inherent in a one-on-one caregiving relationship can unfortunately be used to hide signs of physical and financial abuse. What should you do if you suspect your relative's caregiver has taken advantage of this trust? Read on to learn more about some of your legal options if you find yourself in this difficult situation.
How can you confirm your relative has suffered abuse or neglect?
One of the reasons seniors are at an especially high risk of abuse by caretakers is their physical and economic vulnerability. Many of those in need of constant care or supervision don't have the mental acuity to point out abuse to family members who would otherwise take quick action; others may inherently trust their abusers and permit them greater access to sensitive or confidential documents than might otherwise be justified. Certain physical injuries can also be explained away as an unfortunate side effect of the aging process (such as easy bruising or falling).
As a result, ferreting out abuse or neglect can be more difficult than you might expect. If you have an uneasy gut feeling about your relative's caretaker but no concrete evidence of abuse, it's important to trust your intuition. You may want to enlist the assistance of a doctor or psychiatrist with experience in elder abuse to help examine your relative and assess his or her physical and mental health. You could also place an unobtrusive recording device (such as a teddy bear "nanny cam") in your relative's home to track caregiver activity for a few days.
While this video evidence may not be admissible in a civil case against your relative's caretaker, it can give you enough proof to know you're justified in seeking legal recourse against this caretaker for any injuries your relative has suffered.
Do you have a legal cause of action against your relative's abuser?
In order for you to file a personal injury lawsuit against your relative's caretaker, you'll need to fulfill a few requirements.
First, you'll need to be able to show "standing" -- that you have the legal right to sue. For most personal injury lawsuits, the person with standing to sue is the person who was injured. However, if this person is unable to advocate for him or herself due to age or disability (like a child or someone with diminished mental capacity), a guardian, close relative, or other designee may be given standing to sue.
You'll next need to show that the caretaker breached his or her duty of care to your relative. This breach of duty can often seem obvious -- particularly if the injuries should speak for themselves -- but can be frustratingly difficult to establish in court. It is at this point you'll likely need the assistance of a personal injury attorney experienced in elder law. This attorney will be able to do some investigation and hire medical experts who can testify with certainty that your relative's injuries were due to the caretaker's negligence or malicious actions.
Finally, you'll have to establish an amount of damages. Because the physical abuse of another person is generally classified as a crime (and therefore handled in criminal court), suing the abuser in civil court will require you to show that your relative has suffered actual economic damages as a result of this abuse. This can include past medical bills, projected future medical bills, and the more intangible costs of mental anguish and anxiety. Any judgment awarded to your relative will be ordered with these costs in mind.
If you're looking for a personal injury lawyer to help you form your case, you can go to sites like the one linked to here.