Elder Abuse Laws in Utah

(To Editors: This article is intended as a sidebar to Lori Stiegel’s article on “The Changing Role of the Courts in Elder Abuse Cases”)

Elder Abuse Laws in Utah
By Mary Jane Ciccarello

Utah has both civil and criminal statutes that address elder abuse, neglect, and exploitation.

Utah Code §§ 62A-3-301 et seq., authorizes Adult Protective Services (APS) to “investigate allegations of abuse, emotional or psychological abuse, neglect, or exploitation, to provide protective services either by voluntary agreement or as authorized by court order, to assist disabled or elder adults in need of protection, for the purpose of discontinuing and preventing further abuse, neglect, or exploitation.” Adult Protective Services is part of the Department of Human Services, Division of Aging and Adult Services. It is a social services agency with no law enforcement authority.

Under Utah’s elder abuse statutes, an “elder adult” means a person 65 years of age or older.  A “disabled adult” means “a person 18 years of age or older who is impaired because of mental illness, mental deficiency, physical illness or disability, or other cause, to the extent that he lacks sufficient understanding or capacity to make or communicate informed decisions concerning his person, or is unable to care for his own personal safety or provide necessities such as food, shelter, clothing, or medical care, without which physical injury or illness may occur.”

Section 76-5-111 of the Utah Criminal Code defines the terms of abuse, neglect, or exploitation of a disabled or elder adult and sets out the criminal penalties for these acts, ranging from class A misdemeanor to second degree felony.  Under Utah’s elder abuse laws, there are no provisions for civil remedies or damages, attorney fees or costs, or divestiture in elder abuse cases.

Both the civil and criminal codes (§ 62A-3-302 and § 76-5-111) include the same reporting requirement:  “Any person, including but not limited to, a social worker, physician, psychologist, nurse, teacher, or employee of a private or public facility serving adults, who has reason to believe that any disabled or elder adult has been the subject of abuse, emotional or psychological abuse, neglect, or exploitation shall immediately notify the nearest peace officer, law enforcement agency, or local office of Adult Protective Services.” All reporters are immune from civil liability and all information is confidential.

Local APS workers located throughout the state investigate reports to APS. Reports regarding residents of long term care facilities will be given immediately to the Long Term Care Ombudsman (LTCO) within the Department of Human Services, Division of Aging and Adult Services.  The LTCO has the authority to investigate and resolve issues for long term care residents who are 60 years of age and older.  Long term care facility means “any skilled nursing facility, intermediate care facility, nursing home, assisted living facility, adult foster care home, or any living arrangement in the community through which room and personal care services are provided for elderly residents.” Utah Code § 62A-3-202 (3).

If the reports and investigations indicate that criminal abuse, neglect, or exploitation has occurred, then local law enforcement officers will be notified immediately by either APS or the LTCO.

In addition to Utah’s elder abuse laws, the Cohabitant Abuse Act of the Utah Code §§ 30-6-1 et seq. can afford some relief in the form of a civil protective order to elderly victims of domestic violence. While the act does not specifically address elder abuse, it does recognize that domestic violence exists between persons who cohabitate and not just between persons who are involved in an intimate, physical relationship.  Under this act, abuse is any attempt to cause, or to intentionally or knowingly cause physical harm or intentionally place another adult in fear of imminent physical harm. A cohabitant may mean any person related by blood or marriage to the victim, or anyone who resides or has resided in the same residence as the victim.

The elderly victim would have to get to court to obtain a protective order.  This, as seen in Stiegel’s article, is not often a useful remedy, especially if the abuser is also the caregiver upon whom the elderly or disabled adult is dependent, or is an adult with a dementing illness who is acting in a violent manner.  However, a protective order is sometimes helpful to elderly victims who need immediate protection from an abusive cohabitant, such as an adult family member who is living in the household and upon whom the elder is not dependent. The Cohabitant Abuse Act does not provide protection to the elderly victim of financial exploitation.

Where to go for help

Reports of abuse should go to the statewide intake phone number of Adult Protective Services, 1-800- 371-7897.  Reports of abuse occurring in Salt Lake County should be made to 264-7669. 

Resident complaints and reports of alleged abuse within care facilities should go to the Long Term Care Ombudsman.   The local ombudsman can be contacted through the local Area Agency on Aging or through the state ombudsman’s office at 801-538-3910.

There are twelve Area Agencies on Aging (AAAs) throughout Utah, serving distinct geographical areas. Information on the AAAs is available through the State Division of Aging and Adult Services at 801-538-3910, or www.hsdaas.state.ut.us.  For information on AAAs throughout the country, or information on other aging services, contact the Eldercare Locator at 1-800-677-1116.

For further information regarding aging services and the protection of seniors in Utah, contact Mary Jane Ciccarello, Legal Services Developer, Division of Aging and Adult Services, at 801-538-4641, or .

Some useful national Internet sites on elder abuse and other issues related to elder law are listed below.  All are excellent sources of information and provide links to other resources.

Administration on Aging:
www.aoa.gov

American Bar Association Commission on Legal Problems of the Elderly:
www.abanet.org/elderly

Kansas Elder Law Network:
www.keln.org

National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys:
www.naela.org

National Center on Elder Abuse:
www.elderabusecenter.org

National Senior Citizens Law Center:
www.nsclc.org

Mary Jane Ciccarello specializes in elder law and currently serves as the Legal Services Developer for the Utah State Division of Aging and Adult Services.  She has worked as a staff attorney with the Legal Aid Society of Salt Lake and Utah Legal Services and as the dean of students at the University of Utah College of Law.