What Type of Caretaker Relationship is Necessary to Prove Civil Elder Abuse in California?

christian-langballe-78684-copy-300x200California passed a law in 1991 to give additional protections to the elderly known as the Elder Abuse and Dependent Adult Civil Protection Act (EADACPA). It was put into place with the knowledge and understanding that the elderly that are under the care of others are especially dependent on the care they receive and often are in situations in which they lack the ability to protect themselves. This leads to the question, then, of what type of caretaker relationship is necessary to hold someone liable under the law?

California’s Elder Abuse Law

California has enacted laws that specifically criminalize elder abuse and that also allow for civil remedies. The civil provisions of the EADACPA are found in Chapter 11 of the Welfare and Institutions Code. It protects the elderly from physical abuse, neglect, or fiduciary abuse. The law defines an elder as any California resident 65 years of age or older. Physical abuse is defined to include:

  • Assault
  • Battery
  • Assault with a deadly weapon
  • Unreasonable physical restraint or prolonged or continual deprivation of food or water
  • Sexual assault
  • Use of physical or chemical restraints for punishment, for longer than intended or for a purpose not authorized

Neglect is defined (for our purpose) as the negligent failure of a person having the custody or care of an elder to exercise the degree of care that a reasonable person in a like position would exercise and includes:

  • Failure to assist in personal hygiene or in the provision of food, clothing, or shelter
  • Failure to provide medical care for physical and mental health needs
  • Failure to protect from health and safety hazards
  • Failure to prevent malnutrition or dehydration

Furthermore, the law only applies to cases in which the caregiver committed the abuse with recklessness, oppression, fraud, or malice. What is not defined under the law, however is what constitutes someone as having “custody or care” of an elder.

Caretaker Relationship Definition

The California Supreme Court addressed the definition of what kind of relationship was necessary between an elder and a defendant to constitute civil liability under EADACPA in 2016.  In the case of Winn v. Pioneer Medical Group, the Court determined that the law requires the existence of a caretaking or custodial relationship to apply. Merely being treated at a health care facility, even multiple times, does not constitute a caretaking or custodial relationship. The Supreme Court, however, stopped short of saying what duration or extent of relationship was necessary to create the requisite custodial or caretaking relationship, but it certainly implied that some form of robust relationship was necessary. To this end, it is fairly clear that a one-off care-giving instance would not be enough to come under the auspices of the law. This still leaves interpretation of the necessary duration, depth, and specific behaviors necessary to create a relationship up to the courts

With all of this in mind, whether or not specific conduct constitutes a caregiver or custodial relationship is a complex equation. It is a question that can only be answered based on the facts at hand. If you or a loved one have been injured by what you suspect to be elder abuse, you have rights that need to be protected. If you find yourself in this unfortunate situation, you have options to ensure that you or your loved ones are taken care of. In the San Francisco area, the legal professionals at Willoughby Brod LLP have the experience and skills to ensure that you get the results you deserve. Give us a call at 800-427-7020 or click here to set up your free case evaluation today.

(image courtesy of Christian Langballe)