How The Law Protects Elder Abuse Victims

By Jeffrey J. Downey, Esq

Elder abuse is a serious problem in the United States. According to the National Center on Elder Abuse (NCEA), one in ten elderly people are victims of elder abuse each month. Elder abuse can take many forms, including physical, emotional, sexual, and financial abuse.

In this article, you learn the laws and statutes related to elder abuse in Virginia, Maryland, and Washington, D.C, to help protect you and your loved ones from abuse. Your elder abuse attorney could help explain the law of filing claims on your behalf.

Types of Abuse

Abuse of the elderly is an epidemic in the country. One out of every 10 Americans over 60 years has experienced some form of elder abuse, which grows as our population ages. Many types of elder abuse are divided into physical, sexual, emotional or psychological, and financial exploitation.

  • Physical abuse occurs when someone intentionally causes physical pain or injury to an elderly person. This can include hitting, shoving, kicking, burning, or using restraints in a way that causes injury.
  • Resident neglect or malpractice can be a form of abuse depending on the severity.  Unexplained injuries or bed sores can be an indication of neglect.
  • Sexual abuse is any sexual contact with an elderly person who does not or cannot consent. This can include rape, molestation, forced genital or anal contact, or a forced participation in pornography.
  • Emotional or psychological abuse occurs when someone says or does things that cause fear, anxiety, depression, or other mental health problems in an elderly person. This can include name-calling, intimidation, threats of violence, or social isolation.
  • Financial exploitation happens when someone illegally or improperly uses an elderly person’s money or property for their benefit. This can include stealing cash or valuables, using ATM cards without permission, forging signatures, or coercing an elderly person into signing a document.

Maryland Abuse Laws

Maryland has enacted statutes to protect its elderly residents from abuse. These laws establish penalties for anyone who knowingly or willfully commits elder abuse and anyone who fails to report such abuse. See the attached link below

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Elder Abuse Laws in Virginia

The Virginia Legislature has enacted several laws to protect elders from abuse, exploitation, and neglect. These laws provide criminal penalties against abusers and civil remedies for victims.

Virginia Code 18.2-369 – Abuse and neglect of vulnerable adults: penalties

  1.  It is unlawful for any responsible person to abuse or neglect any vulnerable adult. Any responsible person who abuses or neglects a vulnerable adult in violation of this section and the abuse or neglect does not result in serious bodily injury or disease to the vulnerable adult is guilty of a Class 1 misdemeanor. Any responsible person who is convicted of a second or subsequent offense under this subsection is guilty of a Class 6 felony.
  2. Any responsible person who abuses or neglects a vulnerable adult in violation of this section and the abuse or neglect results in serious bodily injury or disease to the vulnerable adult is guilty of a Class 4 felony. Any responsible person who abuses or neglects a vulnerable adult in violation of this section and the abuse or neglect results in the death of the vulnerable adult is guilty of a Class 3 felony.
  3. For purposes of this section:

“Abuse” means (i) knowing and willful conduct that causes physical injury or pain or (ii) knowing and willful use of physical restraint, including confinement, as punishment, for convenience or as a substitute for treatment, except where such conduct or physical restraint, including confinement, is a part of care or treatment and is in furtherance of the health and safety of the vulnerable adult.

“Neglect” means the knowing and willful failure by a responsible person to provide treatment, care, goods, or services which results in injury to the health or endangers the safety of a vulnerable adult.

“Responsible person” means a person who has responsibility for the care, custody, or control of a vulnerable adult by operation of law or who has assumed such responsibility voluntarily by contract or in fact.

“Serious bodily injury or disease” includes but is not limited to (i) disfigurement, (ii) a fracture, (iii) a severe burn or laceration, (iv) mutilation, (v) maiming, or (vi) life-threatening internal injuries or conditions, whether or not caused by trauma.

“Vulnerable adult” means any person 18 years of age or older who is impaired by reason of mental illness, intellectual or developmental disability, physical illness or disability, or other causes, including age, to the extent the adult lacks sufficient understanding or capacity to make, communicate, or carry out reasonable decisions concerning his well-being or has one or more limitations that substantially impair the adult’s ability to independently provide for his daily needs or safeguard his person, property, or legal interests.

  1. No responsible person shall be in violation of this section whose conduct was (i) in accordance with the informed consent of the vulnerable adult that was given when he was not vulnerable or a person authorized to consent on his behalf; (ii) in accordance with a declaration by the vulnerable adult under the Health Care Decisions Act (§ 54.1-2981et seq.) that was given when he was not vulnerable or with the provisions of a valid medical power of attorney; (iii) in accordance with the wishes of the vulnerable adult that were made known when he was not vulnerable or a person authorized to consent on behalf of the vulnerable adult and in accord with the tenets and practices of a church or religious denomination; (iv) incident to necessary movement of, placement of, or protection from harm to the vulnerable adult; or (v) a bona fide, recognized, or approved practice to provide medical care.
    1992, c. 551; 1994, c. 620; 2000, c. 796; 2001, c. 181; 2004, c. 863; 2007, cc. 562653; 2012, cc. 476507; 2019, c. 234; 2022, cc. 259642.

District of Columbia Elderly Abuse Statutes

The District of Columbia has recently enacted several new laws to combat elder abuse. First, it is a crime to knowingly or intentionally cause physical or psychological harm to an elderly person. This includes acts of violence, neglect, financial exploitation, and emotional abuse. The penalties for this crime can range from a fine to up to 10 years in prison.

Second, the District of Columbia has created a new type of protective order for elders who are abuse victims. This order can prohibit the abuser from having any contact with the victim and restrict the abuser’s access to the victim’s home, finances, and personal belongings.

Finally, if you are aware of elder abuse in your community, you are now required by law to report it to the police or social services. Failure to do so can result in a fine of up to $1,000.

If you or someone you know has been the victim of elder abuse, don’t hesitate to reach out for help. Resources are available to support you and ensure your rights are upheld. With the ideal attorney representation, you can take action to protect yourself or your loved ones from elder abuse.

Free Consultation:

If you have questions about Maryland law or if you or a loved one have been abused or neglected by a health care provider, call us for a free consultation:

Law Office of Jeffrey J. Downey, PC

8270 Greensboro Drive, Suite 810

McLean, VA  22102

Phone: 703-564-7318 or 703-564-7336


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