SeniorLaw Sydney
Printer Friendly Format
SeniorLaw Services - Health Care
Elder abuse and maltreatment

You may wish to discuss with us circumstances involving abuse of any kind to seniors or dependent adults. We can assist you by providing advice and legal experience to assess any potential claim you may have. This could include:

Abuse to seniors
Abuse suffered by a dependent adult
Nursing home malpractice
Residential care malpractice
Fraud against seniors

Elder Abuse

Abuse can take many forms. The effects can be devastating and to make situations worse quite often the person abused may suffer from a disability or illness like Alzeimers which prevents them from informing their close relatives or friends. Abuse in any of its forms can be inflicted upon seniors in the home or in residential care facilities.

The major forms of elder abuse include:

Physical abuse

This is physical force which may or does result in physical pain, injury or suffering. Slapping, kicking, burning, beating are all forms as well as improper use of restraints on a person.

Signs to notice or be suspicious of:

Black eyes, bruising, burn marks, dislocations, untreated injuries, person complaining of being hit or badly treated or a change in their behaviour towards visitors, not being allowed to see the person on their own.

Sexual abuse

This includes any sexual activity to which the senior or dependent adult has either not consented or is incapable of giving consent. Forms can range from exhibitionistic behaviour to criminal acts of sexual assault and rape.

Signs to notice or be suspicious of:

Genital infections not given proper medical explanation, breast or genital bruising, torn or missing undergarments, direct claim by the person of being sexually assaulted.

Psychological abuse

A person can be caused emotional pain or distress through intentional verbal or non-verbal acts. Threats of harm or isolation, intimidation, humiliation and harassment can all cause this abuse.

Signs to notice or be suspicious of:

Outbursts of emotional distress, being extremely withdrawn from visitors, behaviour out of the norm such as rocking or biting, direct claim of maltreatment.


Dependent adults or seniors can suffer neglect. This includes failure to support physical, emotional or safety requirements of the person. Examples of neglect include failure to provide adequate food and water, assist with daily living activities or clean soiled clothing or bedding.

Signs to notice or be suspicious of:

Sunken eyes or cracks around the mouth, untreated bed sores or rashes, malnutrition or rapid weight loss, soiled bedding, staff not providing help to residents who need assistance to eat.


This occurs when senior or dependent adults fail to meet their own physical or psychological needs or they threaten their own safety or health. This would include not taking medication or not being able to manage physical needs.

Signs to notice or be suspicious of:

Malnutrition, prescriptions not filled, poor attention to personal health care or safety or their home surroundings.

Financial abuse

This occurs when someone misuses or exploits the money or property of a senior or dependent adult for uses other than for that person. Improper use may be made of a power of attorney, cashing cheques or stealing directly from the person.

Signs to notice or be suspicious of:

Unauthorised ATM withdrawals, disappearance of funds or possessions, sudden changes to will, appearance of ‘new’ relatives without notice, sudden transfer of assets.

Nursing home abuse

It is important to properly consider any choice of nursing home. Ask questions, look for signs of cleanliness, look at the interaction of staff and residents or make multiple visits at different times of the day or night.

The Aged Care Act puts all approved providers under a statutory requirement to provide care and services in accordance with the Quality of Care Principles. They must also maintain an adequate number of appropriately skilled staff to ensure that the residents' care needs are met.

Depending on whether breaches are of a minor or serious nature, whether it has happened before or the provider has failed to remedy the breach will dictate what sanctions are imposed. Failure to comply with responsibilities can pave the way for a provider’s approval as a provider of aged care services to be suspended or revoked.

If you believe the nursing home resident is being subjected to any form of abuse, neglect or fraud, investigation into the claim should be undertaken without delay.

Medical negligence litigation

When you receive any treatment from a doctor or another health care professional you can expect to receive reasonable care.

Negligence is based on this duty of care owed to a person being breached. As a result of that breach of duty, injury or harm that was reasonably foreseeable has occurred to the person.

Any health care provider may face a claim for compensation if it can be proved they were careless or lacked the required skills. This same duty of care is expected of pharmacists, physiotherapists, dentists and hospitals. Negligence is not assessed in terms of the success of a treatment.

There must be a direct connection between the negligent treatment you experienced and the cause of your injury. If you have suffered harm damages may be awarded to compensate you for:

Pain and suffering
Loss of enjoyment of life
Loss of income
Loss of ability to earn future income
Medical treatment and medication
Assistance care

Negligent treatment which may have caused you harm includes:

Defective consent
Patient awareness during anesthesia
Keyhole surgery injury
Cosmetic surgery injury
Gynecology surgery
Cancer misdiagnosis

If you wish to confidentially discuss the details of a possible claim please do not hesitate to contact us.

Dust Diseases

Industry, business and agriculture are all using an increasing variety of chemicals which are often in powder form. Unprotected exposure over time to dust from these chemicals may also cause disease by inhalation.

The exposure may have initially taken place decades ago when a person was working for a particular employer. The person may have been employed in a number of jobs over subsequent years which, looking back now, could have been the high risk contact period.

Problems may be encountered establishing which employer caused the dust disease and whether the employer still carries on business.

Proceedings in the Dust Diseases Tribunal

We are able to advise and assist you in preparation of a Statement of Claim for filing in the Dust Diseases Tribunal.

Cases are assessed based on the severity of the ill-health and prognosis of the person making the claim.

Ordinary cases involve dust disease that is not life threatening. Diseases can include:

Asbestos related pleural disease
Occupational asthma
Coal dust pneumoconiosis
Lead intoxication

Claims for compensation to relatives are also assessed in this category.

Urgent cases are assessed as the most serious cases where the person is extremely ill. The deadly lung disease called Mesothelioma or carcinoma from exposure to asbestos form the basis for a large number of claims. These cases can be heard speedily. Where the person is seriously ill, evidence can be taken from them at home or in hospital.

Recent judgment

In the case of John Ernest Lawrence v Orica Ltd and anor [2004] NSW DDT 17 a claim was made by Mr Lawrence against his previous employer Orica Ltd (formerly ICI Australia Ltd) and another related company. Evidence was given that Mr Lawrence worked at the ICI Chemical Plant at Botany between 1975 and 1996.

Mr Lawrence was born in 1932. His health was fair until 2003 when he started to experience breathlessness. Hospital investigations confirmed he had malignant peritoneal mesothelioma.

Evidence was given supporting the fact that during his employment at the chemical plant firstly as a fitter’s mate and then as a rigger, Mr Lawrence inhaled asbestos dust and fibre.

As a result of inhalation Mr Lawrence contracted the disease mesothelioma. This was seen as a risk foreseeable by the employers. They did not take reasonable precautions to protect him from these risks by providing either appropriate warnings or supplying effective masks or respirators. This would have prevented the injury.

As a consequence judgment was given in favour of Mr Lawrence and damages of $192,635 awarded to him. The defendant employer was ordered to pay his costs.

If you feel you may have been exposed to any harmful dust material during your life and have suffered injury, you are welcome to contact us to discuss the circumstances of your possible claim.

Health care complaints

The Health Care Complaints Commission receives, reviews and investigates all complaints concerning health care.

It will try to resolve complaints if possible, take action if necessary after a proper investigation has been conducted or for serious breaches prosecute cases before disciplinary bodies.

Complaints can involve anything to do with public or private health care services or a health care practitioner in NSW.

Complaints can also be made by a relative, friend or fellow patient and not just the person who received the health care treatment.

The 2004 Medical Tribunal case involving a complaint by a patient against Dr Stuart Anderson [2004] NSWMT 3, shows the more serious circumstances that can amount to professional misconduct. In that case the doctor had engaged in a sexual relationship with a patient he had been treating for depression. At the same time the doctor continued to treat the patient’s husband and children. The Medical Practice Act clearly states that doctors cannot engage in improper or unethical conduct relating to the practice of medicine. For failing to keep proper records a doctor may be given a warning or supervised practice however in this serious case the Tribunal ordered the doctor’s name be removed for a period from the Register of Medical Practitioners.

If you wish to discuss any situation involving questionable treatment you have received in hospital or from a health care practitioner we will listen to your grievance and provide advice on legal action available to you.

Home | About SeniorLaw Sydney | Services | Q&A | Contact SeniorLaw Sydney
Useful Checklists and Articles | Links

Copyright | Conditions of Use | Privacy Policy | Feedback | Site Map

SeniorLaw Sydney (ABN: 33 560 807 269)
Level 5, Castlereagh Chambers
64 Castlereagh Street
Sydney NSW 2000

Tel. (02) 9235 3160
Fax. (02) 9235 2733

© 2006 SeniorLaw Sydney