A Joint Effort – Criminal and Civil Liability for Nursing Home Abuse

We are proud to serve as a Sacramento nursing home abuse law firm, helping victims and families bring claims in civil court. As we have noted many times, the civil and criminal systems are separate and the viability of a civil claims does not depend on the success of a criminal case. However, while the systems are separate, the courts serve victims best when both parts work together to achieve justice that punishes wrongdoers and compensates victims.
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A recent report in the Sacramento Bee examined the issue of criminal prosecution in nursing home abuse cases. The article cited the case of Don Esco, a California man who spent over four years seeking to hold nursing home personnel criminally liable for his wife’s death. Although he had settled a prior civil case, Esso continued to believe the incident merited criminal accountability. The state reopened a criminal case earlier this year bringing charges that substandard care and the failure to supervise staff contributed to Johnnie Esco’s death following a thirteen day stay at the care center. Don Esco passed away last month, just weeks before the case moved forward with one nurse pleading no contest and another agreeing to cooperate in the case against a supervisor.

While Don Esco did not live to see the nurses and facility held criminally accountable for Johnnie’s death, his persistence is making a difference in the state’s stance on criminal nursing home abuse cases. State Attorney General Kamala D. Harris recently committed to prosecuting more criminal cases relating to nursing home abuse. The AG’s office is setting up three specialized teams aimed at pursuing charges against administrators and employees where the team believes systemic problems led to resident mistreatment. Each team will include an attorney, a nurse, and an auditor and will have support from medical personnel specializing in geriatrics. The teams will build criminal cases involving charges of systemic abuse against facilities that oversee daily activities for older patients, focusing on people and groups that put profit ahead of care rather than isolated incidents of employee error.

Unfortunately, criminal prosecution of nursing home companies and employees in abuse cases has been quite rare. Although local district attorneys are also able to file criminal nursing home abuse charges, they rarely do so in California which leaves the job to state-level offices. Criminal elder abuse cases brought by the state attorney general fell from 112 cases in the 2002-3 fiscal year to only 60 in the 2011-12 period. Some groups have expressed doubts that the new team system will deliver on the stated goals. Although the state officials express confidence, they do note that these cases are often challenging and involve the use of experts and the review of voluminous medical records.

As victim’s rights advocates, our team believes in holding companies and individuals accountable when they mistreat nursing home residents and other long-term care patients. Together, the criminal and civil systems can ensure justice is served. We hope the state continues to work to improve the criminal system’s handling of systemic abuse cases. At the same time, we will continue to work on behalf of victims of nursing home abuse in Sacramento and throughout Northern California, helping our clients win civil judgments and obtain the compensation they are owed.

See Related Blog Posts:
California Class Action Lawyer on Patient Suit Against Nursing Home Group

New Tool Aims to Prevent Nursing Home Abuse