Senior Centers May Be Liable for Aiding Elder Financial Abuse

Senior centers sometimes host presentations by sales agents offering free seminars or lunches that purportedly provide attendees with valuable information relating to estate planning. But these presentations often turn out to be unscrupulous efforts to persuade the elderly to purchase financial products they don't need. For example, the presenters may be operating a "living trust mill" that targets seniors as sales prospects for annuities that often do not mature until after their buyer's death.

These sellers of financial products can be charged with financial elder abuse. But can a senior center that hosts the event where the abuse took place be liable as well? Several California cities have been told this may be the case.

As reported in the Prevent Elder Abuse blog, San Francisco attorney Steven Riess, who specializes in elder financial abuse and abusive annuities sales, sent a memorandum and supporting legal analysis to city attorneys in several Santa Clara County cities contending that: "By permitting an abuser to use its facilities for a presentation, a senior center is increasingly likely to be named as a co-defendant in an elder financial abuse lawsuit based upon direct, vicarious, and joint enterprise theories of liability."

In other words, senior centers could be the target of suits. Riess said that California's definition of elder financial abuse appears to apply to organizations that merely enable the exploitation to take place.

Shortly after the Riess memorandum was received, the cities instructed local senior centers to deny access to suspect commercial enterprises, according to the blog, although none of the Santa Clara centers say that liability concerns motivated them to take action.

Another factor prompting the centers to act could be a class action lawsuit filed by California Advocates for Nursing Home Reform and the Institute on Aging alleging that several companies used "free" living trust seminars to improperly learn about seniors' finances and then sent agents to the seniors' homes to sell them annuities. (See "Lawsuit Charges Annuity Sellers With Elder Abuse".)