Financial exploitation of the elderly is a serious and growing problem in Florida, where the aging population is expanding and there are increasingly fewer resources to help protect them. A new bill being considered by both state and house representatives (SB 1562/ CS/HB 1059) has been winding its way through various committees, so far gaining unanimous support.
The bill is called Exploitation of a Vulnerable Adult (as it protects primarily but not only the elderly) and would establish a cause of action for injunction for protection of adults vulnerable to exploitation, and establishes penalties for willful violations. It seems to protect vulnerable adults over 18 who are impaired in performing daily activities or in their ability to care for or protect themselves due to mental, emotional, sensory, long-term physical or developmental disabilities or dysfunctions, brain damage or infirmity due to aging.
There are currently a few existing laws that outline protections against financial abuse of the elderly. For instance, current statute gives the Florida Department of Children and Families authority to initiate investigation of abuse, neglect or exploitation reports. Further, F.S. 415.111 allows for civil remedy (a lawsuit) for vulnerable adults who have been abused, neglected or exploited to pursue litigation against any perpetrator to recover both actual and punitive damages. Guardians or a personal representative acting on behalf of the individual can also pursue such a claim. Parties who prevail may be entitled to also be compensated for attorney’s fees, costs of the action and damages.
This new law would expands and clarifies the actions and processes that state protective services and courts can take to intervene in cases of suspected elder financial abuse.
According to a recent House of Representatives Staff Analysis of the measure, the bill allows for freezing the credit lines and assets of the vulnerable adult in question AND those of the individual alleged to be exploiting that vulnerable individual.
It also defines how these injunctions can be issued, indicates processes for filing such an injunction, outlines clerk of court duties, creates a sworn petition form for injunction, gives courts the authority to grant temporary injunctions in some cases, supplies courts with standards to consider when granting an injunction, identifies a number of avenues for relief the court can grant the vulnerable adult when the injunction is issued (i.e., temporary and exclusive use of a shared resident, continued payment of specified living expenses for the alleged victim if his/ her assets are frozen) and mandates law enforcement agencies help courts in issuing and executing these injunctions. Individuals who violate the injunction can be subject to arrest.
The analysis notes that 5.2 million residents in Florida are over 60, and the state is No. 1 nationally for having the most residents over age 65 – of which 35 percent reportedly have a disability of some sort and 20 percent needed help with activities of daily living. Individuals living in nursing homes, assisted living facilities and adult family care homes are at high risk for financial exploitation – and they stand to lose the most because they face the possibility of eviction or discharge if they are suddenly unable to care for necessary services and care. (One study in Utah found that when taxpayers assumed responsibility (via Medicaid) of caring for 80 vulnerable adults who had been financially exploited, it cost the public a total of $900,000.) Those 80 cases represent only a fraction of the real problem.
The Florida bill lawmakers are weighing would be effective July 2018, if passed.
Call Freeman Injury Law — 1-800-561-7777 for a free appointment to discuss your rights. Now serving Orlando, West Palm Beach, Port St. Lucie and Fort Lauderdale.
House of Representatives Staff Analysis, Bill # CS/ CS/ HB 1059 Exploitation of Vulernable Adult, January 31, 2018, FloridaSenate.gov
More Blog Entries:
Financial Abuse of Nursing Home Resident Leads to 10-Year Prison Term, Jan. 24, 2018, Orlando Nursing Home Abuse Attorney Blog