Falls and the Elderly

Clumsiness or Negligence – It depends

When 78 year old Patrick falls at the grocery store and fractures his hip – is that anybody’s fault?    Like many legal questions, the answer is:  It depends.   At first glance, many people assume that Patrick simply fell because he wasn’t careful.   Sometimes that is true.    When that’s the case, it’s not a legal matter, it’s just life.  But other times there is more to the story.

When a business, like a grocery store, opens its doors – they invite all customers.   It’s not exactly surprising that many of the customers are seniors.   In fact, most companies encourage business from seniors.   But when that business allows ice to pile up across the walkway leading to the entrance, it poses a special risk to the elderly.   When a landlord fails to repair broken and cracked flooring, it puts seniors who may be walking with a cane at risk.

It is important for all businesses to understand the significance of falls to their elderly customers.   When a 25 year old falls, it is usually not a big deal.   They dust off and go on with their business.   When the elderly fall, that is often not the case.  According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, falls are the leading cause of injury deaths among older adults.  They are also the most common cause of hospital admissions for trauma.  About 25 percent of those who fall will suffer moderate to severe injuries such as bruises, hip fractures or head traumas.  These injuries may be dangerous on their own.  As importantly, however, they can limit mobility.

A hip fracture, for example, may heal promptly in a younger person.  For a senior, however, the same injury may confine them to a wheelchair for years.  Hip fractures are the most common type of fall-related fracture.  The loss of mobility associated with a hip fracture can have serious consequences.  Up to one in four adults who lived independently before their hip fracture, has to stay in a nursing home for at least a year after their injury.  About one out of five hip fracture patients dies within a year of their injury.

Falls, however, are not an inevitable consequence of aging.  Some businesses treat falls as an unexpected event.  Without adequate precautions, however, falls are not surprising.  It is important for businesses that profit from sales to elderly customers, also take precautions to protect them.   Simple things like clearing the snow outside a grocery store can make a dramatic difference to senior customers.

For seven tips on how you can avoid falls, check out the full article on our website at _________________.     Or call, and we’ll send you a copy.  The majority of the statistics for this article were obtained from a series of articles produced by the Centers for Disease Control.  If you are interested in learning more, you can find the articles at www.cdc.gov/ncipc/duip/preventadultfalls.


On Our Website

If you haven’t visited for a while, the Stotis & Baird website contains some helpful articles and resources for seniors and those caring for seniors, including:

  • Listings of recent nursing home violations published by the Illinois Department of Public Health
  • Links to reputable companies that provide useful services to the elderly
  • Articles on elder law topics including guardianship, powers of attorney, living wills and estate planning.

Stop by and check it out at www.stotisandbaird.com




What We’ve Been Up To

  • In July, Eric Parker participated in a round table discussion on care planning options for the disabled as part of an event in Evanston celebrating the anniversary of the enactment of the Americans with Disabilties Act. The event is being rebroadcast on Evanston Community Cable Access.
  • In August, Eric Parker published an article on the Chicago Bridge Blog entitled “Who’s Watching the Money” on the topic of helping seniors with dementia to manage their money.
  • In September, Eric Parker was interviewed by the Chicago Tribune on the topic of Hoarding. Eric has helped a number of seniors with hoarding issues to resolve their legal issues.
  • In October, Eric Parker will be speaking at the Levy Senior Center in Evanston on the topic of Powers of Attorney and Living Wills for the Evanston Commission on Aging.


Does My Parent Need a Guardian

When mom starts forgetting to take her medicine, or fails to pay the electric bill for several months – people begin to ask if somebody needs to step in and help.   Guardianship is one method of taking over management of a person’s affairs.   It is not, however, the easiest method, or the least expensive.   It is more like an option of last resort.

A guardian is a person appointed by the court to manage the affairs of a disabled person (or sometimes a minor).  There are two types of guardianship:   Guardian of the person and Guardianship of the estate.  A guardian of the person is appointed to manage the physical health and well being of a person.  A guardian of the estate is appointed to manage the financial affairs of the disabled person (their estate).

A guardian is typically appointed because the disabled person needs help, and has not chosen an agent to act for them through a power of attorney.   A person who has the legal capacity to make decisions can sign a durable power of attorney appointing an agent to make decisions for them, if they should become disabled.  The forms are simple and the process is inexpensive.  The agent is authorized to act without ongoing court supervision.   More importantly, the agent is somebody chosen by the person – and not by the courts.

If the person has not prepared a power of attorney and now lacks decisional capacity, guardianship is the only option.  A person (typically the adult child of the disabled person) files a petition seeking to be appointed as guardian.  That person must submit a doctor’s report  establishing that the person is disabled.  The disabled person has a right to challenge guardianship if they believe that they are not disabled.  Other people can challenge the appointment of a particular person as guardian.  If no challenges are made – the process can be completed in a month or two.   Typically an uncontested guardianship will cost between $2,000 and $4000 up to the point where the guardian is appointed.  If the guardianship becomes contested, the fees can increase substantially.

Once appointed, the guardian must post a bond (in most cases) to ensure adequate protection of the disabled person’s assets.  Thereafter, the guardian can make limited decisions for the person.   For monetary assets, expenditures are usually made pursuant to a budget approved by the court.   Major decisions, such as selling a house or placing the person in a nursing home, require approval from the probate court.  At the end of each year, the guardian must present an accounting of all money spent, and a report about the condition of the disabled person.

The guardian normally has an attorney who handles the preparation of accountings and handles the court appearances.  The guardian is entitled to payment of a modest fee for their time and is reimbursed for out of pocket costs.  These expenses are paid from the assets of the disabled person, and require the approval of the probate court.  Because of the reporting requirements and associated legal fees, there is a cost to maintaining a guardianship each year.

While guardianship is a necessary process for those who need it – it is something to avoid if possible.  It can usually be avoided by preparing a durable power of attorney for health care and property in advance.  If your aging relative seems to be slipping a little – consult a lawyer.  If they still have sufficient cognitive abilities to meet the requirements of legal capacity (which is not a very high standard) – you may still be able to sign powers of attorney.  If not – then look on the bright side – at least now you know something about guardianship.

This article was originally written by Eric Parker for the Chicago Bridge Group blog.   The blog includes this and other articles on the topic of aging and services for the elderly.   You can visit the blog at ___________________.