“…the moral test of government is how that government treats those who are in the dawn of life, the children; those who are in the twilight of life, the elderly; those who are in the shadows of life; the sick, the needy and the handicapped.” -Hubert Humphrey

Lincoln, Thomas Payne, Pope John Paul II and Jimmy Carter all recognized the same. If protection of vulnerable is a government morality litmus test, Oregon has earned a higher cloud in heaven. Oregon laws protect “vulnerable persons” from a wide range of abuse and neglect as defined below.

Who is a ‘Vulnerable Person” under Oregon Law?

In Oregon, a “vulnerable person” includes:
• An elderly person (65 or older);
• An incapacitated person; and
• “Susceptible” persons with a mental or physical disability
See, ORS 124.100 (1)

Me and dad

Of these groups, the elderly is bar far the largest. According to the Administration on Aging, in 2014 persons 65 or older then represented 14.5% of the population or roughly one in seven. And, by 2020 elderly people, as defined above, will grow to about 21.7% of the population. Thus, elder abuse is the focus of this blog but the same rules apply others deemed “vulnerable” under Oregon law.

Just this morning several “elderly” people ran and biked past me on the south waterfront trail—each probably silently translating War and Peace from Chinese to Arabic as I eat dust. Under Oregon law, it does not matter. A person 65 or older is a “vulnerable person” per ORS 124.100 (1).

In Oregon protecting senior citizens and disabled people from abuse and neglect is a top priority for good reason. Up to five million elderly persons across the United States experienced some form of financial or physical abuse. Of these, only 20% of these instances are ever reported. While we don’t yet have reliable statistics showing how many people suffer from elder abuse and neglect, according to the National Center on Elder Abuse female elders are abused more frequently than males. Also, the chance of being abused increases with age and dementia.

Oregon’s laws allow recovery of triple economic and emotional damage (pain & suffering) plus reimbursement of attorney fees spent in bringing suit against the offender(s). ORS 124.100 (2). This rule was designed to punish and dissuade harmful conduct which is sometimes easily hidden and perpetrated by trusted caregivers and even family members.

What is Elder Abuse?

Oregon law broadly defines “Elder Abuse” to include:
a. Any non- accidental physical injury that cannot justifiably explained;
b. Abandonment or neglect by person with duties to care for the elderly person;
c. Willful infliction of pain;
d. An act which is a crime under Oregon law;
e. Verbal Abuse;
f. Financial Abuse;
g. Sexual Abuse;
h. Involuntary Seclusion by caregiver to punish; and,
i. Wrongful use of physical or chemical restraint inconsistent with medical treatment or court order;
See, ORS 124.050 (1)

Silence is not Golden:

In 2013 Oregon law expended the already then long list of professionals required to report abuse or neglect the professional knows about—whether or not that knowledge was obtained in the course of the processional’s profession. An exception exists for lawyers hired to defend the alleged abuser and lawyers whose client is a victim and the victim does not want reporting. Oregon mandatory reporters of abuse or neglect include:

1. Physicians and physician assistants whether intern, resident chiropractic or naturopathic;
2. Nurses and nursing assistants;
3. Employees of the Department of Human Services;
4. Employees of community developmental disability programs;
5. Employees of Oregon Health Authority, county health department or community mental health program;
6. Peace Officer ;
7. Clergy;
8. Regulated social worker;
9. Physical Speech and Occupational Therapists;
10. Employees of Senior Centers;
11. Certain outreach workers;
12. Licensed counselors and therapists;
13. Public officials learning of abuse during official duties;
14. Firefighter and emergency medical service providers;
15. Psychologists;
16. Adult foster care providers;
17. Audiologists;
18. Speech and language pathologists;
19. Dentists;
20. Optometrists; and,
21. Lawyers

Elder Abuse & Neglect: A Pervasive, Complex Problem

Elder abuse is overlooked by professionals due to lack of training. In addition, elderly citizens are sometimes hesitant to report abuse due to fear of retaliation, disability and reliance on the abuser. 90 % of abusers are family members. Further complicating the matter, certain elderly people wrongly accuse due to dementia, paranoia or other cognitive / emotional impairment.

Sometimes abuse and harm cannot be proved in a criminal trial since criminal convictions require proof “beyond a reasonable doubt”, a very high standard. Civil suits need be proven by a “preponderance of the evidence”, a much lower proof threshold. Oregon civil lawyer Richard Rizk can help victimized vulnerable people even where no criminal conviction was obtained. Mr. Rizk can be reached at (503) 245-5677 or at rich@rizklaw.com.