Proving Elder Abuse in California: Knowing the Seven Categories of Abuse and Neglect

Elder and dependent adult abuse and neglect is a multi-faceted topic that impacts many different sections of our society. Elder and dependent adult abuse and neglect can happen in medical facilities like skilled nursing homes, but can also happen in a private residence at the hands of an otherwise trusted family member.

The spectrum of elder and dependent adult abuse and neglect can make it difficult for the victim, or family member of a victim, to know the appropriate steps in order to seek justice. For this reason, having the best elder abuse attorneys in Los Angeles, such as those at Belgum, Fry & Van Allen to steer you in the right direction is always the best course of action.

Not All Neglect and Abuse Cases Are Created Equal

From a legal standpoint, not all instances of elder and dependent adult abuse and neglect are considered the same. There are many scenarios where even if wrongdoing is being inflicted upon a victim, it may not warrant hiring a private civil attorney. While any abusive or neglectful behavior toward an elder or dependent adult is tragic and should be acted on, a nursing home abuse attorney can advise you on whether or not your particular case has merit to become a civil lawsuit.

This article is going to cover the seven categories of elder and dependent adult abuse and give insight into:

  1. Which categories are more likely to require a private civil attorney.
  2. Which categories require specific types of attorneys.
  3. The different steps you can take to seek justice for your loved one, and ultimately prove elder abuse is occurring.

How Does the Law Define Elder Abuse? 

Before diving into the seven specific categories, it’s important to remember this law is meant to protect the dignity and quality of life of our elders, which is defined as being 65 years of age or older.

However, the elder abuse law in California also extends to dependent adults aged 18 – 64 who require 24-hour supervised care due to physical or mental conditions preventing them from being able to care for themselves.

The Seven Categories of Elder and Dependent Adult Abuse and Neglect

Physical Abuse

Physical abuse is often a highly traumatic and noticeable form of elder and dependent adult abuse. Physical abuse can include battery, battery with a weapon, deprivation of food and water, unethical chemical or psychotropic medication done for the convenience of the caregiver rather than the need of the patient, unreasonable physical restraints, and sexual assault. Clearly, this is a very broad category that can happen in health care facilities and private residences.

Any form of physical abuse toward an elder or dependent adult is tragic, but be aware that there are specific attorneys with unique disciplines that can assist with your situation. The attorneys at Belgum, Fry & Van Allen specialize in elder and dependent adult physical abuse cases that occur in skilled nursing homes and assisted living facilities.

As with all forms of neglect and abuse, the spectrum on which the abuse occurs often dictates the appropriate first step. Generally speaking, if an elder or dependent adult is seen with black eyes, scars, or any type of abrasion, calling the police and consulting with an elder abuse attorney may be the best immediate courses of action. However, there are many instances more innocent in which legal action or police involvement may not be necessary. Sometimes, simply reporting the behavior to the Director of Nursing, Nursing Home Administrator and local Ombudsman is the quickest way to solve your problem. Whether a civil lawyer’s services will be beneficial depends on how severe the harm is.

Regardless of the occurrence, it never hurts to take advantage of Belgum, Fry & Van Allen’s free case evaluation. Let a dedicated elder abuse attorney advise you on whether or not it’s time to pursue a lawsuit or begin a written record of complaints. At the end of the day, an elder or dependent adult’s dignity is paramount, and so no form of physical abuse should ever be tolerated.


Neglect differs from abuse in that it’s not always intentional, but it does get tried under the same elder abuse law. Ultimately, skilled nursing facilities and assisted living homes must live up to the standard of care, and so neglect that can lead to health, mental, or emotional issues should not be tolerated.

Neglect can be thought of along the same trajectory as physical abuse. If the neglectful behavior is one that can be reasonably resolved by bringing the issue to the attention of the nursing home director of nursing, administrator or an ombudsman, before it results in significant harm to the elder person then the need for a private attorney decreases. However, if the neglectful behavior is causing significant physical or emotional harm to the elder or dependent adult then more urgent action may be required.


Isolation, especially when it is intentionally brought on by a skilled nursing home or assisted living facility, is another unfortunate reality. However, isolation as a standalone form of abuse can be difficult to take into court.

In the realm of skilled nursing facilities and assisted living homes, depending on the circumstances, defensible arguments for isolating an elder or dependent adult include:

  1. The elder or dependent adult was isolated in order to protect their wellbeing.
  2. The elder or dependent adult was isolated in order to protect the wellbeing of the other patients and staff members.

If the health care facility has the recommendation of a doctor that isolation can help prevent injury, medical complications, or dangerous emotional outbursts, provided it was temporary and humane, then it is difficult to prove that the isolation was done in an abusive way.

One pattern that the elder abuse attorneys at Belgum, Fry & Van Allen have noticed is that isolation is often a category that can be brought to the attention of a court as part of a larger physical abuse or neglect case. For example, it can be considered isolation when a nursing home or skilled nursing facility withholds mail, phone calls, and visitors from a resident. If that elder or dependent adult is willing and wants these social interactions, then the skilled nursing facility or assisted living home withholding that may be abusing the elder through isolation. If this is happening, there are likely other instances of abuse or neglect occurring that are actionable in a court and justify the time and expense of a complicated lawsuit.

If you are a loved one of a dependent adult or elder residing in a nursing home, and you’ve felt that they have been unresponsive or frequently unavailable, it never hurts to bring it to the attention of an elder abuse attorney. Belgum, Fry & Van Allen have seen dozens of instances where a client has come forth simply expressing that something did not feel right, which has led to our attorneys taking action, and seeking justice.

Financial Abuse

Financial abuse, although horrible, is not commonly seen at skilled nursing facilities and assisted living homes. Most financial abuse cases stem from a domestic situation, usually a family member, who has been entrusted with the care of an elder or dependent adult taking advantage of them economically. Belgum, Fry & Van Allen, can direct you to resources that will assist your unique case. Give us a call at 626-914-9806.


Like financial abuse, abandonment is a form of abuse more commonly seen in private residences. The law defines it as “the desertion or willful forsaking of an elder [anyone 65 years of age or older] or dependent adult by anyone having care or custody of that person under circumstances in which a reasonable person would continue to provide care and custody.”

Abandonment is a terribly unfortunate occurrence, but not one that happens prevalently in skilled nursing facilities and assisted living homes. Regardless, Belgum, Fry & Van Allen can assist you in finding a more appropriate resource.


Elder and dependent adult abduction is defined by the law as “​​any elder or dependent adult who does not have the capacity to consent to the removal from this state and the restraint from returning to this state, or the restraint from returning to this state.”

Like abandonment, there are very few instances in which abduction occurs in skilled nursing or assisted living homes, and Belgum, Fry & Van Allen can point toward the appropriate resources if your elderly or dependent loved one has been abducted.

Psychological Abuse

Psychological abuse is a form of abuse that can range from swearing and yelling to ridiculing and harassment. It’s a terrible and unfortunate thing to happen either in nursing homes or private residences.

Although not as common in skilled nursing facilities and assisted living homes, psychological abuse to elders and dependent adults is something that can happen. When it does, it can often go unnoticed, and go for long periods of time. Where that abuse is extreme, it may warrant hiring a civil attorney.

Belgum, Fry & Van Allen do represent victims of psychological abuse, and often look to see if their case also includes instances of neglect, physical abuse, or isolation.