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Virginia seeks to reduce exploitation of seniors with new law

As seniors age, they become more vulnerable. For those seeking to take advantage of seniors, the assisted care facility can be the ideal setting. Seniors' movements and access are restricted, there may be little direct oversight from an outside authority, and loved ones are usually not able to visit often enough to readily detect impropriety.

Substandard nursing home care can impact many aspects of a senior's life. Medical negligence is often intertwined with physical and financial abuse. One new Virginia law is aimed at curbing financial abuse of seniors, a long-ignored variable in this dangerous equation.

Statute makes financial abuse of vulnerable adults punishable as larceny

Adult Protective Services, a subdivision of the Virginia Department of Social Services, investigates abuse, neglect and exploitation of those 60 years old or older. According to Adult Protective Services, almost 1,000 vulnerable adults are financially exploited in Virginia every year.

For the families of patients in care facilities, there are well-established causes of action for nursing home negligence and abuse. Yet, while these civil remedies can be incredible useful for victims and their families, until now, there has been no criminal sanctions specifically targeting those who exploit seniors financially.

On July 1, a new law took effect in Virginia that codifies an effective criminal penalty for those who take advantage of mentally incapacitated adults. House Bill 1682, passed in the other body of the Virginia legislature as Senate Bill 706, criminalizes knowingly using the mental incapacity of another in order to "take, obtain, or convert" cash or anything else of value that belongs to that incapacitated person. Violations of this law are punishable as the offense of larceny.

Civil suits are necessary along with criminal penalties to address elder abuse and neglect

Negligent care, senior abuse and financial exploitation are often linked when caregivers stop acting in the best interests of the vulnerable adults who are entrusted to them. When a caregiver violates the trust of families who count on them to render care to loved ones, a multifaceted approach is usually warranted.

If your loved one has been the victim of negligence or abuse, you should not only rely on the criminal justice system to punish mistreatment that amounted to a crime. The burden of proof is lower in civil cases, so even if caregivers cannot be criminally punished for wrongful conduct, it may be possible to hold them responsible for financial damages. What's more, criminal penalties may deter similar conduct in the future - but the harm has already been done to your loved one. Seeking the just compensation you are due from any at-fault parties may be the only way to balance the scales for the individual harm that was caused.

Learn more about your right to monetary damages to compensate your family for nursing home negligence: contact a Virginia attorney today.

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