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Elder physical abuse involves the use or threat of physical violence or force against a senior that results in physical impairment, physical pain, injury or bodily harm to the elder. Elder physical abuse includes both assault and battery, along with hitting, punching, shoving, scratching, biting or using bed restraints inappropriately to prevent the senior from moving.

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What Is Elder Physical Abuse?

Physical abuse includes one-time incidents, as well as continuing patterns of abuse. Given the nature of the nursing home setting, physical elder abuse can be difficult to recognize, though loved ones should always be vigilant for warning signs of mistreatment.

Physical abuse is a form of elder mistreatment, which is defined as any type of abuse or neglect perpetrated against individuals who are 60 years of age or older.

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Compared to elder neglect, in which a caregiver fails to provide the senior with basic assistance in tasks of daily living or neglects to maintain proper hygiene, physical abuse is fairly rare. Only around 1.5% of elder mistreatment incidents fall into the category of physical abuse, though these statistics may be complete, because many seniors are unable to speak out about the abuse due to their frailty and mental conditions, such as dementia.

While rare, physical abuse of the elderly still affects thousands of seniors every year. But it can be difficult to tell the difference between elder self-neglect and elder abuse. The difference, in short, is that self-neglect is a result of the elder’s own actions (or inactions), while elder physical abuse involves the intentional infliction of physical harm by someone else.

Types Of Elder Physical Abuse

Elder physical abuse includes incidents of:

  • shoving
  • biting
  • slapping
  • striking or hitting
  • scratching
  • pushing
  • cigarette burns
  • using restraints inappropriately in the nursing home setting
  • administering drugs that are not prescribed by a doctor

Alongside actual physical violence, the category of elder physical abuse also includes threats of physical force, including threats made using a weapon, such as a knife, gun or blunt object.

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Can We File Suit After Elder Physical Abuse?

Yes. In most case of elder physical abuse, family members and loved ones of the victim have the right to file a private civil lawsuit against the responsible parties. These lawsuits can be filed against the direct perpetrator of the abuse, the person who physically abused your loved one (such as a nursing home staff member), and also the nursing home for negligence.

The Difference Between Assault & Battery

In total, civil lawsuits filed over elder physical abuse generally make use of three different legal theories, all of which are recognized in Pennsylvania’s civil courts:

  • assault
  • battery
  • intentional infliction of emotional distress

Under Pennsylvania’s civil law, threats of physical force come under the heading of “assault,” which occurs when one person threatens the use of physical force in a way that would make a reasonable person fear imminent risk of harm. The term “battery” is reserved for instances in which actual physical contact is made.

To sum up the difference between these two concepts, assault refers to the threat of physical force, while battery entails the actual use of physical force.

Threats Of Physical Force

In most cases, you will see assault and battery used together, but they don’t necessarily need to come as a pair. Some physical abuse lawsuits feature only the charge of assault, describing cases in which the perpetrator threatened physical force, but did not make good on the threat. This is a perfectly viable cause of action in civil court, but usually it comes along with a third charge, the intentional infliction of emotional distress.

Intentional Infliction Of Emotional Distress

Intentional infliction of emotional distress is fairly self-explanatory. This charge applies whenever a defendant takes intentional actions with the purpose of causing emotional distress to a victim, in the form of fear, terror, anxiety or trauma. It applies in most cases of elder physical abuse, because physical abuse necessarily causes emotional distress.

Nursing Home Negligence

Claims against nursing homes for elder physical abuse rely on a different legal theory, the theory of negligence, a careless disregard for the safety and wellbeing of others.

Nursing homes in Pennsylvania have a legal obligation to provide residents with appropriate and adequate care and supervision. In many cases, physical abuse can occur because the nursing home and its staff failed to provide the resident with adequate supervision. In some instances, the physical abuse is committed by a nursing home staff member, at which point the nursing home itself becomes liable for the injuries caused.

Nursing home staff members should be trained to identify and address the warning signs of physical abuse. When these critical warning signs are missed, elders can suffer at the hands of their abusers all the more. Nursing homes have a sworn duty to protect.

When a nursing home fails to protect residents, the family of the victim may be eligible to pursue compensation and justice by filing a private civil lawsuit, using the legal theory of negligence as the basis for their claim. Physical abuse can be prevented.

Common Warning Signs Of Elder Abuse & Assault

Physical Signs

The physical signs of elder physical abuse are various, but may appear to be the consequences of elder self-neglect:

  • unexplained bruises
  • unexplained abrasions and lacerations
  • unexplained burns
  • rope or strap burns and abrasions
  • evidence that the elder is treating injuries in secret
  • internal injuries (unexplained pain upon standing up or sitting down)
  • bruises at different stages of healing (evidence of ongoing abuse)
  • tooth loss
  • traumatic hair loss
  • broken bones
  • sprains
  • dislocated joints

Be sure to watch out for these warning signs when you visit your loved one.

Behavioral Signs

  • past history of hospitalizations, especially for injuries that are similar or the same to other injuries
  • delays in receiving necessary medical care for injuries
  • trips to different emergency rooms to avoid discovery of the abuse
  • unreasonable explanations as to how the elder received injuries
  • strained relationships between the elder and caregivers
  • social withdrawal from usual activities or social situations

Notice any warnings of physical elder abuse? Take action now. Your loved one could be in danger. It’s absolutely crucial to act as soon as possible. You can report your suspicions of physical elder abuse now to the Pennsylvania Department of Health, along with your local Area Agency on Aging. Physical elder abuse doesn’t need to be an “invisible” crime.

Free Legal Consultations

Is your loved one being abused in a Pennsylvania nursing home? Do you suspect that your loved one is being mistreated? Your family may be eligible to file a civil lawsuit against the nursing home. Learn more about your legal options in a free consultation.

Our experienced attorneys can help. We have already helped countless families pursue financial compensation and justice after incidents of physical elder abuse. Find more information about your loved one’s rights today.

Your consultation comes at no charge and no obligation. Best of all, our attorneys only work on a contingency-fee basis – that means you owe us nothing until we secure compensation.

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