Protecting Our Seniors—Stating a Cause of Action for Elder Abuse is Not as Difficult as Defendants Often Claim

Defendants often cite Carter v. Prime Healthcare Paradise Valley LLC (2011) 198 Cal.App.4th 396 in support of their argument that the plaintiff’s complaint pleads a cause of action for professional negligence rather than elder abuse.  Defendants often argue that Carter, in effect, altered the law and heightened the pleading requirements for an elder abuse cause of action.  In making this argument, however, defendants misinterpret the Carter holding.  The Carter court did not modify the elements or the pleading requirements for elder abuse under California’s Elder Abuse and Dependent Adult Civil Protection Act.  In fact, the Carter court stated that it “distill[s]” the requirements of an elder abuse case.  The Carter decision did not, however, increase or enhance Plaintiff’s pleading requirements.  Id. at 406.

Moreover, when citing to Carter, defendants often ignore the important fact that the plaintiffs there alleged elder abuse against two defendants—a hospital and a skilled nursing facility.  The demurrer at issue in Carter was brought by the defendant hospital.  In its demurrer, the hospital argued plaintiffs had failed to sufficiently allege elder abuse because they failed to identify the specific conduct the hospital engaged in that caused the decedent’s injuries.  (Carter 198 Cal.App.4th at 407-408. (“Nothing is alleged about the Hospital’s denial or withholding of any care or about any injury [plaintiff] suffered during his hospitalization”) (“Again, no facts are alleged as to any care or treatment the Hospital denied or withheld from [decedent]”)).

In other words, in Carter, the defendant hospital argued the complaint showed the decedent’s injuries were caused by the neglect he endured at the skilled nursing facility but did not include facts showing the hospital engaged in conduct that caused the decedent’s injuries.  Instead, the defendant hospital argued the complaint showed, if anything, that the hospital failed to properly treat the decedent’s injuries.  As such, the Court held that the complaint did not establish a cause of action for elder abuse against the hospital, but may have established a cause of action for professional negligence.  (See Carter, Cal.App.4th at 408). 

Thus, a closer look at Carter shows the Court did not heighten the pleading standard for elder abuse.  Instead, Carter simply holds that a complaint that fails to identify the neglect that caused the elder’s injuries will not state a claim for elder abuse.  Despite the rather unique scenario before the Court in Carter, defendants often cite Carter as having created a heightened pleading standard for elder abuse generally.  When with faced with such an argument, plaintiffs should note that the Carter decision did not heighten the pleading standard for elder abuse but merely held that a complaint that fails to identify the defendant’s injury causing neglect does not state a claim for elder abuse. 

If you have a family member who you think is being abused or neglected – or if you are employed by a company that you think is engaging in illegal practices, contact us for a confidential case evaluation.  Emanuel B. Townsend, etownsend@cpmlegal.com; (650) 697-6000.

Our firm, Cotchett, Pitre & McCarthy, LLP has a long history of combatting elder abuse by representing senior citizens, their families, and whistleblowers.