Glossary of Terms Used in NJ Elder Abuse

Vocabulary words have meaning both in life and in the law. Below I have listed the most frequent terms used in this website and what each word means. The terms are listed in alphabetical order. I am certain this glossary will be of assistance to you in your reading.

If Hanlon Niemann & Wright can be of assistance to you now or in the future, please do not hesitate to contact me personally (Fredrick P. Niemann, Esq.) (855) 376-5291 or e-mail me at

  • Abuse (Elder Abuse) – Any act or failure to act performed intentionally, knowingly or recklessly that causes or is likely to cause harm. Abuse includes infliction of physical pain, injury or mental anguish.  Abuse includes any sexual act where the vulnerable adult does not consent when the other person knows or should know that the vulnerable adult is incapable of resisting or declining consent to the sexual act due to mental deficiency or disease, or due to fear of retribution or hardship. Abuse includes the omission or deprivation by a caretaker or another person of goods or services which are necessary to avoid physical or mental harm or illness.  Abuse includes any unreasonable or inappropriate use of physical restraint, medication or isolation that causes or is likely to cause harm to a vulnerable adult; a threat or menacing conduct directed toward a resident that results or might reasonably be expected to result in fear or emotional or mental distress to a vulnerable adult.  Abuse means the willful infliction of physical pain, injury or mental anguish, unreasonable confinement, or the willful deprivation by a caretaker of services that are necessary to maintain mental and physical health.
  • Abandonment – means a knowing or intentional action or inaction, including desertion, by a person or entity as a caretaker for a vulnerable adult that leaves the vulnerable adult without the means or ability to obtain necessary food, clothing, shelter, or medical or other health care.
  • Adult – A person eighteen (18) years of age or older who, because of mental or physical illness or impairment, is unable to manage his or her own resources, carry out the activity of daily living, or protect himself or herself from neglect, exploitation, or a hazardous or abusive situation without assistance from others, and who may be in need of protective services.
  • Advance Directives – Advanced instructions telling how a person wants his or her healthcare administered if that person is unable to make decisions for himself/herself.   Also called a “Living Will”.
  • Attorney-Client Privilege – The client’s privilege to refuse to disclose and to prevent any other person from disclosing confidential communications between the client and his or her attorney.
  • Battery – The unlawful use of force resulting in the injury of another.  Battery always includes assault.
  • Bedsore – A pressure-induced skin ulceration involving the death of living tissue and sometimes deep muscular infection and penetration of internal organs.   Bedsores occur during long confinements to bed when there is prolonged pressure on an area of the body that has a bony prominence and a thin covering of flesh, like the tailbone, heels, elbows, and shoulder blades.  Bedsores are also known as pressure sores and decubitus ulcers.
  • Capacity to Consent – The mental ability to make a rational decision, which includes the ability to perceive and appreciate all relevant facts, and to reach a rational judgment upon such facts.  A decision itself to refuse services cannot be the sole evidence for finding the person lacks the capacity to consent.
  • Civil Action  – Legal action brought to enforce a person’s private and individual rights; does not generally involve criminal actions.
  • Civil Law  – Collection of federal and or law(s) concerned with private rights and remedies, as contrasted with criminal law.
  • Coerce or Coercion – To compel by pressure, threat, or force.
  • Cognitive Impairment  – A breakdown in a person’s mental state, which may affect the person’s ability to think clearly and rationally.  It may also affect moods and induce fear and/or anxiety.
  • Complaint – In the legal sense, the document a plaintiff files with the court which contains allegations and damages sought.  A complaint generally starts a lawsuit.
  • Confidentiality – A person’s right to speak freely with his or her healthcare provider without anyone else finding out what was said in the conversation.
  • Consent – Express written consent granted after the vulnerable adult or his or her legal representative has been fully informed of the nature of the services to be offered and that the receipt of services is voluntary.
  • County Office on Aging  – A department of government located within all counties in NJ that offer help to older people, including transportation services, meals, personal care, day healthcare, and skilled nursing care.   New Jersey residents can contact their County Freeholder’s Office to find their Local Agency on Aging.
  • Deception – Includes a misrepresentation or concealment of material fact relating to services rendered, disposition of property, or use of property intended to benefit a vulnerable adult; deception can be found in the terms of a contract or agreement entered into with a vulnerable adult; existing or preexisting condition of any property involved in a contract or agreement entered into with a vulnerable adult; or the use or employment of any misrepresentation, false pretense, or false promise in order to induce, encourage, or solicit a vulnerable adult to enter into a contract or agreement.
  • Defendant – In civil law, it’s the party defending a lawsuit filed against them; the party against whom the plaintiff seeks to recover damages.
  • Duty – An obligation to conform to a standard of care that is considered reasonable by most objective persons.
  • Elder Abuse – An intentional act, or failure to act, by a caregiver or another person in a relationship involving an expectation of trust that causes or creates a risk of harm to an older adult.  (An older adult is defined as someone age 60 or older.)
  • Emotional or Psychological Abuse – Verbal or nonverbal behavior that results in the infliction of anguish, mental pain, fear, or distress.  Examples include behaviors intended to humiliate (e.g. calling names or insult), threaten (e.g. expressing an intent to initiate nursing home placement), isolate (e.g. seclusion from family or friends), or control (e.g. prohibiting or limiting access to transportation, telephone, money or other resources).
  • Essential Services – Social, medical, psychiatric, or legal services necessary to safeguard a disabled adult’s, elder person’s, or resident’s rights and resources to maintain the physical and mental well-being of such person.  Such services may include, but not be limited to, the provision of medical care for physical and mental health needs, assistance in personal hygiene, food, clothing, adequately heated and ventilated shelter, and protection from health and safety hazards.
  • Evidence – Proof of a persuasive and probative matter presented at trial for the purpose of inducing belief in the minds of the jury or judge.   Evidence comes in a variety of forms, including testimony, writings, tangible objects, and exhibits.
  • Exemplary Damages or Punitive Damages – Compensation greater than what is necessary to cover losses received by the plaintiff.   These damages are awarded to punish the defendant for his behavior.
  • Financial Exploitation  – (Relative to a vulnerable elder) – When a person stands in a position of trust or confidence with the vulnerable elder and knowingly and by undue influence, deception, coercion, fraud, or extortion, obtains control over or otherwise uses or diverts the benefits, property, income, resources, trust funds belongings, or assets of the vulnerable elder.  Financial exploitation includes breach of fiduciary duty, including, but not limited to, the misuse of a power of attorney, trust or a guardianship appointment, that results in the unauthorized appropriation, sale, or transfer of the property, income, resources, or trust funds of the vulnerable adult for the benefit of a person or entity other than the vulnerable adult; or obtaining or using a vulnerable adult’s property, income, resources, or trust funds without lawful authority, by a person or entity who knows or clearly should know that the vulnerable adult lacks the capacity to consent to the release or use of these or other items.
  • Gross Negligence – Intentional failure to use a reasonable duty of care that results in negative consequences experienced by another person.
  • Homebound – When a person is generally unable to leave their home without the assistance of others due to health problems.
  • Incapacitated Person – Any adult who is impaired by reason of mental illness, intellectual disability, physical illness or disability, advanced age, or other causes to the extent that the person lacks sufficient understanding or capacity to make, communicate and/or carry out reasonable decisions concerning the person’s self or resources, with or without the assistance of a caretaker.
  • Informed Consent – A person’s agreement to allow something to happen, such as a medical procedure, which is based on full disclosure of the facts necessary to make an intelligent decision.
  • Intimidation – Communication conveyed through verbal or nonverbal conduct which threatens deprivation of money, food, clothing, medicine, shelter, social interaction, supervision, healthcare, or companionship, or which threatens isolation or harm.
  • Isolation – Knowingly or intentionally preventing a vulnerable adult from having contact with another person by preventing the vulnerable adult from receiving visitors, mail, or telephone calls, contrary to the express wishes of the vulnerable adult, including communicating to a visitor that the vulnerable adult is not present or does not want to meet with or talk to the visitor, knowing that communication to be false; physically restraining the vulnerable adult in order to prevent the vulnerable adult from meeting with the visitor, or making false or misleading statements to the vulnerable adult in order to induce the vulnerable adult to refuse to receive communication from visitors or other family members.
  • Joint and Several Liability – Refers to a plaintiff’s ability to sue one or more defendants separately or all together at his or her option.   Permits a group of defendants to be held both individually and collectively liable for all damages suffered by the plaintiff.  The plaintiff can recover the entire amount of damages from one defendant, even if all the defendants are liable.
  • Judgment – A final decision made by a Judge in court that is binding upon the parties in the case.
  • Judicial – Pertaining to a Judge and/or proceeding before a Judge in a recognized court of jurisdiction in New Jersey.
  • Lacks Capacity to Consent ­ – An impairment by reason of mental illness, developmental disability, organic brain disorder, physical illness or disability, chronic use of drugs, chronic intoxication, short-term memory loss, or other cause to the extent that a vulnerable adult lacks sufficient understanding of the nature or consequences of decisions concerning the adult’s person or property.
  • Lawsuit – A court action brought by one person against another seeking compensation for damages or costs incurred based on another’s actions.
  • Neglect  – The failure or omission by the vulnerable adult, caretaker, or another person with a duty to provide goods or services which are reasonably necessary to ensure safety and well-being and to avoid physical or mental harm or illness.   Neglect includes harm to an adult’s health or welfare caused by the inability of the adult to respond to a harmful situation or by the conduct of a person who assumes responsibility for a significant aspect of the adult’s health or welfare.  Neglect includes failure to provide nutrition, clothing, shelter, cooling, heating, or other services, supervision, personal care, or dental or other health care, or failure to provide protection from health and safety hazards or maltreatment; abandonment by a caretaker.
  • Negligence – In its broadest sense means carelessness.  More precisely, conduct that falls below the standard of care established by law for the protection of others against unreasonable risks of harm.  In order to prevail in a negligence action, the plaintiff must prove, by a preponderance of the evidence, the following four elements: (1) that the defendant owed the plaintiff a duty of care; (2) that the defendant breached the duty; (3) that the defendant’s breach of his or her duty of care caused the plaintiff’s injury; (4) that the plaintiff suffered an injury.
  • Nursing Home Abuse – Any physical, sexual, verbal, psychological, or financial abuse perpetrated against residents of a residential care facility.   Although nursing home abuse is a growing problem, many victims do not report violations because they are scared or ashamed.
  • Personal Exploitation  – An act of forcing, compelling, or exerting undue influence over a vulnerable adult causing the vulnerable adult to act in a way that is inconsistent with relevant past behavior, or causing the vulnerable adult to perform services.
  • Physical Abuse – The intentional use of physical force that results in acute or chronic illness, bodily injury, physical pain, functional impairment, distress, or death.  Physical abuse may include, but is not limited to, violent acts such as striking (with or without an object or weapon), hitting, beating, scratching, biting, choking, suffocation, pushing, shoving, shaking, slapping, kicking, stomping, pinching and burning.
  • Plaintiff – In civil law, the person who brings a legal action against another (or others) or starts a lawsuit.
  • Position of Trust and Confidence – The position of a person who is a parent, spouse, adult child, or relative by blood or marriage, or a person/organization with a position of trust and legal oversight of a vulnerable adult.  A person in a position of trust includes on who has a legal or fiduciary relationship with a vulnerable adult, including a court-appointed or voluntary guardian, trustee, attorney, or conservator; a caretaker, or joint tenant of a vulnerable adult.
  • Power of Attorney – The written document authorizing one person to take certain legal actions on behalf of the person giving the power of attorney.
  • Preponderance of the Evidence  – The amount of evidence needed for a plaintiff to win a civil action.  A preponderance of the evidence is the greater weight of the evidence or the more convincing evidence in comparison to the evidence offered in opposition.   A plaintiff can win by a preponderance of the evidence even if the plaintiff’s evidence merely tips the scales in the plaintiff’s favor.
  • Protective Services – Services provided by the state or other governmental agencies or any private organizations or individuals which are necessary to prevent abuse, neglect, or exploitation.   Such protective services include but are limited to evaluation of the need for services, assistance in obtaining appropriate social services, and assistance in securing medical and legal services.
  • Punitive Damages or Exemplary Damages – Compensation greater than is necessary to pay a plaintiff for loss.  These damages are awarded because the loss was aggravated by violence, oppression, malice, fraud, or wanton and wicked conduct on the part of the defendant.   Such damages are intended to punish the defendant for his even behavior or make an example of him or her.
  • Restraint – A physical or chemical means to stop a patient from being able to move about freely.
  • Self-Neglect  – The failure of a vulnerable adult, not living in a facility, to provide for himself or herself the goods and services necessary for the vulnerable adult’s physical or mental health, and the absence of which impairs or threatens the vulnerable adult’s well-being.  This definition may include a vulnerable adult who is receiving services through home health, hospice, a home care agency, or an individual provider when the neglect is not the result of inaction by that agency or individual provider.
  • Sexual Abuse or Abusive Sexual Contact: Forced or unwanted sexual interaction (touching and non-touching acts) of any kind with an older adult.  This may include forced or unwanted:
    • Completed or attempted contact between the penis and the vulva or the penis and the anus involving penetration.
    • Contact between the mouth and the penis, vulva, or anus
    • Penetration of the anal or genital opening of another person by a hand, finger, or another object
    • Intentional touching, either directly or through the closing of the genitalia, anus, groin, breast, inner thigh, or buttocks.

    These acts also qualify as sexual abuse if they are committed against a person who is not competent to give informed approval.

  • Suit or lawsuit – Generally, a court action brought by one person, the plaintiff, against another, the defendant, seeking compensation for some injury or enforcement of a right.
  • Undue Influence – When a person uses the person’s role, relationship, or power to exploit, or knowingly assist or cause another to exploit, the trust, dependency, or fear of a vulnerable adult, or uses the person’s role, relationship, or power to gain control deceptively over the decision making of the vulnerable adult against the vulnerable adult’s best interest.
  • Vulnerable Adult – A person 60 years of age or older who has the functional, mental or physical inability to care for himself or herself; or an adult 18 years of age or older who has a mental or physical impairment that substantially affects that person’s ability to protect their own interest.  Vulnerable adults are unable to provide necessities such as food, shelter, clothing, or medical or other health care; obtain services necessary for health, safety, or welfare; carry out the activities of daily living; manage their own resources; or comprehend the nature and consequences of remaining in a situation of abuse, neglect, or exploitation.  Vulnerable adults may be harmed or threatened with financial, mental, or physical harm by either their own or another individual’s action or inaction, either in their own homes, adult family home, assisted living facilities, etc.
  • Willful Negligence – Intentional performance of an unreasonable act in disregard of a known risk, that causes harm.   There is no clear distinction between willful negligence and gross negligence.

Fredrick P. Niemann Esq.

Have questions about Elder Abuse? If so, call our office today. Ask for Mr. Niemann to personally discuss your questions and individual situation toll-free at (855) 376-5291 or e-mail him at







Written by Fredrick P. Niemann, Esq. of Hanlon Niemann & Wright, a Freehold, New Jersey Elder Abuse Attorney

Elder Abuse Attorney serving these New Jersey Counties:

Monmouth County, Ocean County, Essex County, Cape May County, Camden County, Mercer County, Middlesex County, Bergen County, Morris County, Burlington County, Union County, Somerset County, Hudson County, Passaic County