Beware Liability For Financial Elder Abuse

As a civil fiduciary litigator – I handle trust disputes, will contests, civil financial elder abuse claims, undue influence claims, capacity cases, etc. – I read Janine Robben’s article in the Oregon State Bar Bulletin with keen interest: Keeping an Eye Out for Elders.

What wasn’t addressed is that Oregon has one of the most broadly written statutes for civil financial elder abuse in the nation and bystander liability can occur when a person “knowingly acts or fails to act under circumstances in which a reasonable person should have known” that another person was permitted to financially abuse a vulnerable adult. ORS 124.100(5).

With this language, plus a seven year statute of limitations from discovery and the opportunity of an award of treble damages and attorneys’ fees, it is likely more and more people will be hauled into court, because proving that someone did not “know or should have known” can be a difficult task and often is a question to be resolved by the fact finder. This increases potential liability for those who routinely deal with “vulnerable adults” (which by definition in ORS 124.100(1)(a) includes anyone 65 years of age or older – regardless of their mental or physical health) as well as those that happen upon a situation in which they knew or should have known that another is taking advantage of a vulnerable adult.

So proceed with caution.