The Psalms teach us to "vindicate the orphan and the oppressed" [Psalm 10:18] and that the Lord maintains "the cause of the afflicted and justice for the poor." [Psalm 140:12]. We are to "Learn to do good; seek justice, Reprove the ruthless, defend the orphan, Plead for the widow [Isaiah 1:17].
So here's the deal. If we so choose how do we apply the wisdom of the Psalms and the admonitions of Isaiah? As lawyers, we do take comfort when we are able to help the afflicted and prevent harm to the powerless. That said, I must concede that all cases don't present such lofty aspirations. Law is a mix of the mundane and the magnificent.
An area of justice in which the California legislature has a particular interest is the protection of dependent adults. A dependent adult is a person between 18 and 64 who has physical or mental limitations that restrict his or her ability to carry out normal activities or to protect his or her rights. [California Welfare and Institutions Code § 15610.23] We have law that has been designed "to protect a particularly vulnerable portion of the population from gross mistreatment in the form of abuse and custodial neglect." The Elder Abuse and Dependent Adult Civil Protection Act is a broad powerful statute that enables "interested persons to engage attorneys to take up the cause of abused elderly persons and dependent adults." [Cal. Welf. & Inst. Code § 15600(j)]
It is important to note California's definition of financial abuse.
Financial abuse occurs when a person (1) takes, secretes, appropriates, obtains, or retains; (2) the real or personal property; (3) of an elder or dependent adult; (4) for a wrongful use or with intent to defraud, or both. [Cal. Welf. & Inst. Code § 15610.30(a)(1)] A person is equally liable for elder financial abuse if they "assist" another in doing any of the above.
So what is our experience when we take up the cause of victims of financial abuse? Well it might be crude to say but "money talks." Especially when an abuser (or his attorney) realizes that California has a powerful law that will subject him to damages and also attorney's fees for his wrongdoing against an elder or dependent adult.
Attorney's fees are no small risk and may be a multiple of the actual damages. A recent San Mateo jury trial case successfully tried by a well-known bay area law firm found a defendant liable for approximately $170,000 in damages for financial elder abuse. The trial court also awarded almost $790,000 in attorney's fees and costs. Another way of saying it - awarded attorney's fees are nearly 5 times the size of the damages.
The simple truth is that financial abuse of dependent adults often requires - in the words of Isaiah - reproval of the ruthless. California law certainly helps us in the reproval. If you would like to talk about issues related to the abuse of a dependent adult call us at Hackard Law: 916-313-3030. We represent clients throughout the state from Sacramento and Los Angeles to the Bay Area and San Diego, and we'll be happy to listen to your story.