Compensatory Damages for Suffering | Elder Financial Abuse
Hello, I’m Mike Hackard of Hackard Law. We’re a law firm that civilly prosecutes trust beneficiary and catastrophic injury claims in California’s Superior Courts.
Juries are empowered by our system to impose accountability and consequences for those who have broken the rules and caused injury to another. Juries ultimately determine the damages – that which was taken from seniors inflicted by financial elder abuse through no fault of their own.
California vests juries with great authority to calculate damage remedies against financial elder abusers. Our statute says that an elder financially abused by a defendant may recover compensatory damages as part of their lawsuit. Compensatory damages include both economic (what was physically taken or out of pocket losses) and noneconomic damages (widely referenced as physical pain, mental suffering and emotional distress). This is part of a series of short articles on the meaning of economic damages.
Seniors are defrauded at twice the rate of the rest of the population when it comes to online fraud. I’ll share a recent example:
An elderly California gentleman is swindled by an online remote-control scam. He sees a pop-up on his computer screen that offers a free security check. He gives the online scammers his personal checking and savings information.
The scammers take everything that is in the accounts – nearly all of his net financial worth. His daughter contacts state and federal authorities for help. Law enforcement identifies the foreign base of operation of the wrongdoers but nothing else.
The elderly man is now without any financial resources. He looks to family members for help – for survival. There is little that we as lawyers can do to help him. This is tragic. You know how it feels when you hear about a tragic situation that can’t be reversed. You want to help. There is no path to solve the problem.
Fortunately, there are cases that we can solve. Many times, we’re able to identify, civilly prosecute and take financial elder abusers to trial. They are not offshore. They might be in any one of our California communities.
We identify the economic compensatory damages. The elder’s house is taken by a child. It’s worth $800,000. The child takes $300,000 in accounts. It’s easy to calculate this economic loss. The jury gets to assess noneconomic damages.
Let’s think of the elderly man as an example. If you could find, sue and prosecute the wrongdoer would you ever just say to him: “Give the money back, that’ll do it. You don’t need to pay anything else.” Would we ignore the devastation that this elder has suffered? To be fair, no. That’s why we empower juries to determine and impose noneconomic damages against elder abusers.
Juries receive well settled instructions that specify the range of noneconomic damages. They include:
- Physical pain
- Mental suffering
- Loss of enjoyment of life
- Physical impairment
- Emotional distress
If we just call this a pain and suffering claim we can miss the point. It can be like calling brain surgery a headache. An amputation a cut. Alzheimer’s a temporary memory loss. The abuser does not want to pay for these injuries. He might call them invisible. “No harm, no foul.”
We make invisible injuries visible to juries. Juries want facts – not conjecture, not speculation.
An elderly plaintiff’s spouse or family member know particulars. They can speak to how the plaintiff’s health and wellbeing before the injury and plaintiff after the injury. This is powerful.
A jury wants to know what was taken from the elder. It isn’t only about the value of property taken. It’s about all of the range of noneconomic injuries. We’ve litigated these cases for seniors and/or their families. We know that the plaintiff’s mental suffering is a common offshoot from these forms of elder financial exploitation:
- Theft: Assets taken without permission or knowledge of the elderly person. This can be cash, valuables, and both personal and real property.
- Fraud: Falsification of records, forgeries, changed beneficiaries, unauthorized checks and bank and securities transfers.
- Electronic: Compromised passwords, relinquishment of personal information, online remote-control scams.
- Investments: Investments made with out of line commissions, or agent abuse, and outright fraudulent properties.
- The sale and trade of insurance policies.
Of course, mental suffering is not the only damage stemming from such exploitation. For these purposes and for the sake of brevity, let’s assume that mental suffering is the only noneconomic injury. Mental suffering stemming from financial elder abuse harm.
The defendant pierced the senior’s life with great loss. The magnitude of this loss is many times the dollar value of the property taken. An elder’s golden years – their last years- have been taken from them. They didn’t bring a lawsuit to win the lottery. They could care less. They would never choose the mental suffering that fills their life. No one in their right mind would.
They’re not going to profit from a verdict. They’ve lost something irreplaceable and precious to them. A part of their health – their independence. Damages are a matter of paying for what the financial elder abuser took. We identify what was taken by learning the answers to each of these three questions:
- How bad is the harm?
- How long does it last?
- How interfering is it?
So, just how bad is mental suffering. Its defined as fright, feelings of distress, anxiety, depression, grief and may result in physical symptoms. It can result in significant changes in thinking, emotion and behavior. Its distress affects the elder’s functioning in social, work and family activities.
Elders may not want to talk about it. They may feel sad or down. The distress can reduce their ability to concentrate. Mood changes are common. Withdrawal from friends and activities often occurs. Fatigue, detachment from reality, even paranoia or hallucinations can follow elder financial abuse. Suicidal thinking. Problems with drugs or alcohol. Loss of the ability to cope.
These are all major harms. The elder’s life as he knew it is gone. It won’t be recovered. Juries need to hear how.
Elder financial abuse victims have their own story to tell. It is often best told by those who have seen the tragic impact of elder financial abuse.
Elders want their lives and health back. This isn’t an option. Our law provides the only thing a jury can do is assess damages. The jury needs to know much was taken as a result of the defendant’s financial exploitation, the fair value of what the elder lost.
In a case where an elder’s mental suffering continues, much has been taken. The jury will determine the fair value of what was lost – to provide the civilized remedy to right wrongs. This is our system of justice. It is not an eye for an eye system. We turn to our community, to our juries, to remedy wrongs. To impose accountability and consequences.
We at Hackard Law civilly prosecute California trust beneficiary and catastrophic injury claims. This is our passion.
Call us if you want to talk to us about your case. We can be reached at 916-313-3030.
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