Has a Friend or Family Member Suffered Elder Abuse in Ireland?
If a friend or family member has suffered elder abuse, it may be possible for them to claim compensation for the abuse of the elderly; or – if they are unable to represent themselves – for you to make an elder abuse compensation claim on their behalf.
Making a claim for abuse to an older person is not straightforward. Unlike personal injury claims made through the Injuries Board, a claim for compensation for the abuse of the elderly has to be conducted by a solicitor – often after the police and social services have carried out an investigation.
This article has been compiled to provide advice about making a claim for abuse to an older person; but, as no two claims for compensation for the abuse of the elderly are similar, it is recommended that you discuss the circumstances of the abuse (or the alleged abuse) with a solicitor at the first practical opportunity.
Elder Abuse in Ireland
Many people do not appreciate the scale of elder abuse in Ireland, and this is not surprising. Until you are touched by the abuse of an elderly friend or relative, the only knowledge you may have of elder abuse in Ireland is what you may have read in the newspapers or seen on TV.
In 2014, more than 700 complaints about the mistreatment of the mentally disabled and elder abuse in Ireland were made to the Gardai, and almost 300 further complaints made to the Health Service Executive (HSE).
Unlike many people´s perception of elder abuse in Ireland, the mistreatment of the elderly is not confined to state-managed institutions. Elder abuse in Ireland can occur in privately-run nursing homes, hospitals and day care centres. It can also take place in the victim´s own home.
What Constitutes Elder Abuse in Ireland?
The HSE´s definition of elder abuse is “A single or repeated act or lack of appropriate action, occurring within any relationship where there is an expectation of trust, which causes harm or distress to an older person or violates human and civil rights”.
This means that an action or lack of action which results in a physical injury, a psychological injury or in a financial loss is considered to be abuse of the elderly. These harmful actions – or lack of actions – can manifest in a number of ways:
- Physical Abuse
- Sexual Abuse
- Psychological Abuse
- Financial Abuse
Some victims of elder abuse in Ireland suffer more than one type of abuse, and consequently it can be difficult to identify the signs of mistreatment. Whereas unexplained injuries – or injuries that are not consistent with the explanation given – can be signs of physical elder abuse in Ireland, friends and family members should also be aware of personality changes when certain people enter or leave a room, side effects from the incorrect administration of medication, or personal belongings (including clothing) going missing.
Reporting Elder Abuse in Ireland
Studies have shown that very few abused elders will voluntarily disclose that they have been mistreated. Claims for compensation for the abuse of the elderly usually originate after signs of abuse or high risk situations have been identified.
If you suspect that an elderly relative or friend has been abused, you should make a formal complaint to the organisation or person in charge of their care. In situations where you believe that the elderly person is in danger, you should call the emergency services.
If you believe that a crime has been committed, you should avoid touching or removing anything, and never confront the suspected abuser, as this may escalate the issue. An investigation of your complaint will be conducted and appropriate action taken by the proper authorities.
Starting an Elder Abuse Compensation Claim
Even before the outcome of an investigation is known, it is in your best interests to speak with a solicitor. A solicitor can arrange for a vulnerable person to be hospitalised or relocated so that they are removed from the risk of further abuse while the investigation is taking place.
A solicitor will also be able to advise you on the steps that need to be taken with regard to the specific nature of the abuse and arrange for medical experts and psychiatrists to examine the elderly person to establish the extent of the abuse and any permanent damage it has caused.
Your solicitor can also start his or her own investigation into the circumstances of the alleged mistreatment to establish whether or not there are grounds for a claim for abuse to an older person while evidence of the alleged abuse is still recent.
How a Claim for Abuse to an Older Person Progresses
Subject to your solicitor believing that there is sufficient evidence to make an elder abuse compensation claim, he or she will then inform the abuser, their employer or – in the case of a state-managed institution – the HSE that a claim for compensation for the abuse of the elderly is being made.
Whether or not liability is accepted is largely going to depend on the outcome of a formal investigation and whether any criminal charges are brought by the Gardai. A criminal conviction is not necessary in order to claim compensation for the abuse of the elderly, but it will accelerate the resolution of the elder abuse compensation claim.
If liability is accepted, your solicitor will negotiate a settlement of compensation for the abuse of the elderly. If liability is contested, it may be necessary to take the claim for abuse to an older person to court. Your solicitor will advise you whether this is a likely scenario, and what the court procedures will involve.
How Compensation for the Abuse of the Elderly is Calculated
Compensation for the abuse of the elderly is calculated using four main elements. Not each will apply in every claim for abuse to an older person, and there may be some cases in which additional elements apply.
General Damages for Physical Pain and Suffering
How much compensation for the abuse of the elderly a plaintiff might receive in this element can fluctuate significantly depending on the nature of any physical or sexual abuse, or the long term consequences of neglect.
General Damages for Psychological Injury
All of the examples of elder abuse in Ireland given above contain an element of psychological injury. A victim may be permanently traumatised by their abusive experience, especially when they have developed patterns of self-harm or failing to look after themselves.
General Damages for Loss of Amenity
Compensation for loss of amenity normally relates to a deterioration in the victim´s quality of life. Not every older person being cared for is an invalid, and quite possibly they enjoyed a very good quality of life before their mistreatment.
Special Damages for Financial Losses
This element covers not only the loss of possessions or financial theft from an elderly person, but costs they (or you) may incur in medical treatment, rehabilitation, relocation to another healthcare centre or for care to be provided for in the home if the victim has been psychologically traumatised by the abuse he or she has received in an institution.
Speak with a Solicitor about Compensation for the Abuse of the Elderly
If you are unsure about whether a friend or family member has been abused – or an investigation has already been conducted into alleged mistreatment and you wish to find out more about making an elder abuse compensation claim – it is in your best interests to speak with a solicitor at the earliest possible opportunity.
A solicitor will be able to give you advice which is relevant to your particular circumstances (or those of the abused victim) and guide you through the procedures for making a claim for abuse to an older person. As mentioned above, a solicitor may also be able to arrange for a vulnerable person to be hospitalised or relocated so that they are removed from the risk of further abuse.
Even though the Statute of Limitations in Ireland allows two years from the date that mistreatment is identified in which to make a claim for abuse to an older person, you should not wait any longer than possible before speaking with a solicitor. Every elder abuse compensation claim is unique and, due to the complexity of claiming compensation for the abuse of the elderly, any delay could result in the elder abuse compensation claim being time-barred.