What are the elder abuse laws in SC? 

There are few things more terrifying than suspecting that a caregiver is abusing your elderly mother, father, grandparent, or other loved one in a care facility or even in their home. When a caregiver who is entrusted with protecting a vulnerable adult instead takes advantage of or hurts them, the caregiver and their employer may be liable criminally and civilly. 

In this article, we will discuss elder abuse laws in SC, including:

  • The SC Omnibus Adult Protection Act, 
  • Criminal charges and civil lawsuits for elder abuse, 
  • Types of elder abuse, 
  • Warning signs of elder abuse, and
  • What to do if you suspect elder abuse. 

Elder Abuse Laws in SC

SC’s “Omnibus Adult Protection Act,” found at SC Code § 43-35-5, is intended to protect vulnerable adults in our state. A “vulnerable adult” could include any adult who has a physical or mental condition that limits their ability to care for themselves, including a person of advanced age or a resident of a care facility. 

SC law on elder abuse provides criminal penalties under some circumstances, but the caregiver or facility is also liable for damages for negligence or intentional abuse in the civil courts. 

Because abusers often are not charged criminally, filing suit against the responsible parties and making them pay the maximum compensation allowable under SC law and the facts of your case is the primary way that we can hold abusers responsible for their conduct and prevent future cases of elder abuse. 

Criminal Charges & Civil Actions for Elder Abuse in SC

SC Code Section 43-35-85 makes it a felony criminal offense to knowingly and willfully abuse, neglect, or exploit a vulnerable adult. 

In civil court, we must prove either negligence or intentional conduct that resulted in harm to the elderly person. To be charged in criminal court, the state must prove intentional or willful conduct, which is a different standard of proof. 

Although a criminal conviction may be indisputable evidence of liability in your civil case, the abuser doesn’t need to be charged with a crime before we file suit or take action to protect your loved one. 

The potential penalties for the criminal offense of elder abuse or neglect include:

  • Up to five years in prison for knowingly and willfully abusing, neglecting, or exploiting a vulnerable adult, 
  • Up to 15 years in prison for knowingly and willfully abusing or neglecting a vulnerable adult when it results in great bodily injury, and
  • Up to 30 years in prison for knowingly and willfully abusing or neglecting a vulnerable adult when it results in death. 

Types of Elder Abuse Under SC Law

There are many ways that a caregiver, neighbor, family member, or another person can hurt a vulnerable adult. 

Because not all abuse results in visible injuries, the victim does not always report the abuse, and the abuser may be working to cover up the abuse, many cases of elder abuse go unreported, and the abuse continues undetected. 

The types of elder abuse that family members should be on the lookout for include:

  • Physical abuse: including slapping, hitting, pushing, or any physical actions that result in bodily harm to the elderly person, 
  • Psychological or emotional abuse: threatening, yelling, belittling, humiliating, or isolating the vulnerable adult, 
  • Sexual abuse: any unwanted sexual contact with an elderly person or any sexual contact with an elderly person who is unable to consent due to their mental state or disability, 
  • Neglect: failure to provide for the vulnerable adult’s personal needs, including bathing, hygiene, needed supervision, or access to medications, and
  • Financial exploitation: forging checks, use of credit cards or bank cards without authorization, misuse of a power of attorney, or taking a vulnerable adult’s funds or resources through trickery or coercion. 

Signs of Elder Abuse 

How do you know if your loved one is being abused or neglected? 

Because the abuser will most likely take actions to conceal their misconduct and medical issues like dementia or Alzheimer’s may call into question your loved one’s reports, it is necessary to investigate before filing a lawsuit or charging a caregiver with a crime. 

There are many warning signs, however, that may justify taking further action. Some examples include:

  • Poor hygiene: Unwashed hair, dirty clothes, body odor, and other signs that a vulnerable adult’s personal hygiene needs are not being looked after is a red flag that may indicate neglect, 
  • Bruises, broken bones, or other unexplained injuries: Unexplained falls that result in broken bones, scratches on the arms or face, or other unexplained injuries could indicate physical abuse or defensive wounds, 
  • Bedsores: Bedsores could be an indication that caregivers are failing to turn a patient, assist them to a chair, or walk with them as needed, and this is another form of neglect, 
  • Unexplained anxiety, fear, or emotional response: If your loved one suddenly begins to panic when you are leaving them, it could be a red flag that they are afraid of someone or something at the facility, 
  • Unexplained financial activity: Unauthorized ATM withdrawals, unexplained credit card purchases, or a lack of funds to pay bills could be a red flag indicating financial exploitation. 

What to do if You Suspect Elder Abuse

If you suspect elder abuse, you should ask questions and investigate further. If you are a mandated reporter, you must report the abuse if you “have reason to believe” that the abuse has occurred or is occurring. 

If you are not a mandated reporter, you must still report elder abuse if you have “actual knowledge that a vulnerable adult has been abused, neglected, or exploited.”

Mandated reporters listed in SC Code Section 43-35-25 include a “physician, nurse, dentist, optometrist, medical examiner, coroner, other medical, mental health or allied health professional, Christian Science practitioner, religious healer, school teacher, counselor, psychologist, mental health or intellectual disability specialist, social or public assistance worker, caregiver, staff or volunteer of an adult day care center or of a facility, or law enforcement officer.”

Failing to report elder abuse is a misdemeanor criminal offense that is punishable by up to a year in prison. 

Questions About Elder Abuse Laws in SC? 

If you suspect that your loved one is being abused at a nursing home, elder care facility, or in their home, your SC elder abuse lawyer can help you to investigate, take steps to protect your loved one, and file a lawsuit for compensation on their behalf.  

Call the Law Office of Nicholas G. Callas, P.A. at 803-369-3968 or contact us through our website for a free consultation.

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