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Is An Assisted Living Facility Responsible When Employees Coerce Residents Into Making “Gifts”?

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Elderly individuals move to Florida at a higher rate than anywhere else.  As a result, predatory individuals such as caregivers, aides, and others have an abundance of opportunity to commit elder abuse and to prey on the elderly or infirmed.  The predatory actions frequently result in changes to the elderly individual’s estate plan including procuring lucrative gifts, obtaining deeds to their benefit, beneficiary designation changes on life insurance policies, transfer or pay on death accounts, and even draining accounts. But is an assisted living facility responsible when employees coerce elderly residents into making “gifts”?

In the 2016 decision of ACTS v Zimmer, (4th DCA 2016), an elderly resident (“Decedent”)—during the waning years of his life—resided an independent and continuing care facility.  Decedent continued to reside there following the death of his wife when he was “befriended” by multiple employees.

In short order, the elderly Decedent was coerced into giving, among other gifts, at least $30,000 and a $42,000 Mercedes to one such predatory employee of the facility.  Based on the Court’s opinion, it appears that this employee was not the only one on the receiving end of Decedent’s gratuitous behavior.

Decedent’s son got wind of the lavish gifts his father was doling out and the employee was terminated from the facility because accepting gifts from residents was against the facility’s policy.  After termination, other facility employees would drive Decedent to the terminated employee’s home where the terminated employee continued to receive gifts.  The terminated employee would even pick up Decedent from the facility directly.

After Decedent’s death, litigation was commenced against the terminated employee and the facility by Decedent’s estate. The terminated employee settled out of court for an undisclosed amount. A verdict was entered against the independent and continuing care facility at trial for negligent supervision. On appeal the facility ultimately escaped liability for negligent supervision because the actions of the non-terminated employees—such as driving the Decedent to and from the terminated employee’s home—were not underlying torts themselves.

Notwithstanding the reversal on appeal, predatory employees are taking advantage of the elderly and infirm at an alarming rate.  An assisted living facility should be mindful of the opportunity for exploitation and coercion of its residents and take all necessary steps to protect them.

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