Financial Elder Abuse Damages | Humiliation
Hello, I’m Mike Hackard. I lead a group of Hackard Law lawyers who civilly prosecute trust beneficiary and catastrophic injury claims in California’s Superior Courts. A significant part of our litigation involves the recovery of damages from defendants who’ve inflicted financial elder abuse on seniors. California, like many states, provides for strong 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).
Our state’s jury instructions get more specific and tell us that noneconomic damages include:
- Physical pain
- Mental suffering
- Loss of enjoyment of life
- Physical impairment
- Emotional distress
Some people just bunch all of these things together and just call it a pain and suffering claim. When this is done, it’s easy for juries to be skeptical of what some may call invisible injuries. It’s our job at trial to let the plaintiff and other fact witnesses share what they know about the plaintiff’s injuries. To make that which is invisible visible.
The plaintiff’s spouse or family member is more likely to know particulars than a distant cousin. Witnesses can tell the story of the plaintiff before the injury and the plaintiff after the injury. They can describe how the elder was with the family, in hobbies, in vacations, in energy, in friendships and the everyday parts of life.
It’s natural that we respond to stories – not to generalizations. Our experience in litigating financial elder abuse cases provides real life insight into how seniors experience humiliation from this type of exploitation. We’ve seen this firsthand. We know that the plaintiff’s humiliation 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 and relinquishment of personal information.
- Investments: Investments made with out of line commissions or to benefit the self-interest of the agent acting on behalf of the elder.
- The trade of insurance policies.
Of course, humiliation is not the only damage stemming from such exploitation. For these purposes and for the sake of brevity, let’s assume that humiliation is the only noneconomic injury. This will be in the context that the harm to seniors is often an extreme taking.
The defendant thrust a loss into their life. The magnitude of this loss may be many times the simple 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 harm they suffered. 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 humiliation? Its defined as the experience of some form of ridicule, scorn, contempt, or other degrading treatment at the hands of others. Humiliation is one of the strongest of human emotions. It’s the emotional reaction to feeling demeaned, put down or exposed. It’s often coupled with emotions like shame, anger, sadness, fear, unhappiness, dismay, disappointment, regret and guilt.
Humiliation makes the victim feel powerless. The victim loses self-esteem. Feels dishonored. Feels small. Alienated. It’s ongoing. Moving to another place to live doesn’t remove the feeling of humiliation.
It involves a loss of trust. A betrayal. A feel of failure – of being exposed. Feeling like a fool.
A psychological response called negative attribution can cause outsiders to tilt toward personal blame for those who have been injured – for those who have been humiliated. Humiliated people feel this.
Others may look at them as though it’s their fault.
- “You shouldn’t have trusted your caregiver.”
- “You should have known that your son’s drug problems would cause him to steal from you.”
- “You should have helped your parent get a legitimate estate plan before their dementia worsened.”
- “You should have known better than to give personal information over the telephone.”
Do you see what’s happening here? An innocent victim is being doubly victimized. An outsider, a criminal, has caused the harm and the victim is being blamed for it. The victim feels judged – humiliated.
Humiliation causes our brains to perceive rejection as a threat to our survival. We rely on the tribe for survival and our exclusion means death. Humiliation is a scarlet-letter moment. We’ve been branded, blemished stigmatized. The harm can last a lifetime. It surely interferes with our enjoyment of life. Half of our world might be gone. Juries need to hear how.
I’ve shared some ideas. The reality of how humiliation enters into the lives of elder financial victims is individual to the victims. Americans believe that there should be a remedy when there is a wrong that causes harm. Jurors works toward a remedy to make up for the elder’s losses inflicted by the carelessness, recklessness or intentional conduct of another.
Elders want their lives and health back. Since that isn’t an option, the only thing a jury can do is assess damages. Evidence will be presented that details the plaintiff’s damages through the time of trial and expected or future damages.
The bottom line is not how much the elder’s going to get. Its amount a remedy that measures the full extent of the loss. It’s about how 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 emotional state is forever shaken. Where humiliation has taken hold.
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.
I started my observation by noting that Hackard Law civilly prosecutes trust beneficiary and catastrophic injury claims. This is what we like to do. Call us if you want to talk to us about your case.
We can be reached at 916-313-3030.
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