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Senate Bill 679 (Mello-1991)

Chapter 774, Statutes of 1991

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Senator Henry Mello wrote to the Governor on September 27, 1991 to request that his bill be signed. This letter provided the following information:

You have before you my Senate Bill 679 which would add certain provisions to the Welfare and Institutions Code to award attorney’s fees and specified damages to be paid in defined cases of elder and dependent adult abuse cases and would enact the Elder Abuse and Dependent Adult Civil Protection Act.

Currently, the abuser does not have to pay for the victim’s suffering if the victim dies before a lawsuit is filed and a guilty verdict rendered, regardless of how much the abused person suffered and the level of misconduct.

Many attorneys will not take abuse cases because of the difficulty in prosecuting them and the high probability that fees will not be collected.

Senate Bill 679 provides an incentive for attorneys to take these cases, while setting reasonable standards for these actions and damages awarded. Senate Bill 679 limits the cause of action to physical and fiduciary abuse and neglect. Damages for abuse are limited to those described in Section 3333.2 of the Civil Code, which is currently set at $250,000. Under the conditions of this bill, civil damages can be awarded only after clear and convincing evidence of reckless abuse has been presented in court.
(See Exhibit #16, document PE-2)

The Beverly Hills Bar Association, the sponsor of this legislation, explained its position as follows:

The existing system does not adequately protect elders and dependant adults from abuse. Attorneys will not take cases where the likelihood of recovery is small, the survival of the abused person is questionable, and the reward of attorney’s fees not available.

The bill has three principal features: (1) It establishes probate court jurisdiction in elder abuse cases; (2) it encourages early resolution of law suits by settlement, and (3) it provides incentives for attorneys to represent abused elders and dependant elders.
(See Exhibit #4, document SP-26)

Background information on this legislation was addressed in the Assembly Subcommittee on the Administration of Justice analysis of Senate Bill 679, which stated, in part:

2) The author, who has a long-standing commitment to this issue, points out that the number of reports of abuse continues to climb dramatically. In 1988, counties reported 31,004 cases of abuse within the meaning of the Act. In 1989, the total number of reports rose to 42,053.

. . .

Lastly, the author refers the Subcommittee to the April 19191 [sic] report of the Little Hoover Commission entitled “Skilled Nursing Homes: Care Without Dignity.” This report
chronicles the “pain and suffering” endured by “too many” of California’s 120,000 residents of such facilities.
(See Exhibit #8, pages 2 and 3; see also Exhibit #4, documents SP-2 and SP-3)

Senate Bill 679 was a successor to an earlier unsuccessful measure from the 1989 90 legislative session which was vetoed for fiscal reasons. (See Exhibit #6, page 2, veto message) The background information sheet from the Senate Judiciary Committee references a second bill from 1990 as being similar to Senate Bill 679. (See Exhibit #4, document SP 1)

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