Elderly Victims of Sexual Abuse

Laszlo Molnar, the owner of an elder care home in Auburn, Washington, was arrested last Fall for raping an 83-year-old resident in his care. The disturbing assault was caught on a hidden camera installed by relatives of the woman, who suffers from Alzheimer’s and has limited communication abilities. The other residents of the home were relocated to other facilities—unfortunately all of them suffer from dementia and were unable to provide further information about other instances of abuse in the home.

Identifying sexual abuse of the elderly

Sexual assault of the elderly is a crime that carries a lower likelihood of charges being brought and assailants being found guilty. Many nursing home residents have impaired physical and cognitive abilities, and this makes them among the most vulnerable members of society. Most of the time the only indication that sexual abuse has taken place is where the victim exhibits signs of physical trauma. These signs include new or unexplained:

  • Pain when sitting or walking
  • Blood on underwear, bed sheets or clothes
  • Bruising on breasts, inner thighs or buttocks
  • Bruising, bleeding or infection in genital region
  • Sexually-transmitted disease

Since many people visiting elderly relatives don’t necessarily check for most of these things, it is important that everyone is aware of the behavioral signs of sexual abuse in otherwise non-communicative senior citizen:

  • Anxiety or fear, particularly when a specific person is in the vicinity
  • Relationship with a caregiver that appears out of the ordinary
  • New fear of being touched
  • Sudden change in behavior, psychosomatic complaints
  • Withdrawal and/or depression
  • Difficulty sleeping, nightmares

Note that sexual abuse does not require physical touching—it may also include forcing an elderly person to watch sexual acts or pornographic materials and forcing them to undress against their will. For example, in 2012 two home health care workers in San Diego were caught on tape fondling each other in the presence of a stroke victim.

Litigation challenges

Litigating these challenging cases requires experience and in-depth knowledge of elder abuse laws and regulations. These cases require knowledge of how to file nursing home abuse reports, how to properly conduct an investigation, how to file legal claims against facilities and employees, and knowing when to settle and when to go after them aggressively in court.

Many of these cases involve third party claims, such as where the nursing home failed to protect the victim against the acts of another resident or the guest of that resident. These cases are always very sensitive and disturbing and require the services of a nursing home negligence law firm with the resources, expertise and manpower to actively, tactfully and aggressively protect the patient’s rights and pursue maximum compensation on their behalf.

What Lawyers Can Learn From the Murder of a Boston Cardiac Surgeon

Last month’s murder of Brigham and Women’s Hospital cardiovascular surgeon Dr. Michael Davidson sent shock waves through the medical community and the entire U.S. Although of course no explanation could ever justify the shooter’s actions, many are still left wondering how and why this horrific event happened.

News reports indicate that the shooter, Stephen Pasceri, was grieving the recent death of his mother who had been under Dr. Davidson’s care. Pasceri had apparently learned something disturbing about a medication his mother was prescribed post-surgery that allegedly contributed to her death. That revelation is apparently what triggered an otherwise pleasant accountant and churchgoer to commit a heinous murder.

Lessons to be learned

When a medical procedure does not go as planned, it is a natural response for patients and/or their loved ones to be angry, confused and/or grief-stricken. These emotions should not be taken lightly, and many times it falls on the lawyer to guide their clients in productive and reasonable ways. This means more than just investigating and filing a lawsuit on their behalf. It also entails ensuring that the patient and/or the patient’s family members are getting all the support they need.

Following are some lessons that we have learned over the years when representing individuals and family members who have felt wronged by a doctor or hospital:

  1. Communication is key. Although physicians cannot control all the reasons for their clients seeking legal assistance, it is in their power to control the quality of the patient-physician relationship. It is important for lawyers to keep in mind that the vast majority of malpractice claims stem from poor doctor-client communication.
  2. Anger must be addressed. Although lawyers are not therapists, we need to be good listeners – always remember that we are dealing with emotions as well as legal issues, and many clients often benefit from counseling with a licensed therapist.
  3. The lawyer must act quickly. Memories fade and the limitations period for filing a lawsuit runs out quickly in Florida. It is crucial for most victims to obtain compensation as soon as possible to enable follow-up care and treatment, and for families of the deceased to have closure—without unnecessary delays on the part of their legal representation. An experienced and well-known firm is usually the best option to ensure that the case is being taken seriously.
  4. Lawyers must be familiar with their professional responsibility rules and regulations. All lawyers should be well-versed in professional responsibility rules and regulations concerning clients who pose an imminent threat of harm to others. Most state bar associations have an ethics hotline where their members can obtain confidential assistance with issues concerning their professional responsibilities.

 Taking the right path

It is long past the time of seeing doctors as infallible beings. Doctors make mistakes and there are legal ways of investigating if the doctor was at fault and of obtaining compensation for harm done. Clients and their lawyers must do their best to ensure that all recourse against physicians and hospitals is lawful and nonviolent. We do not know whether or not Pasceri had grounds for a lawsuit, but we can all agree that taking Dr. Davidson’s life was the wrong path to take.