New Hawaii Law Designed to Protect Vulnerable Seniors Commentary
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New Hawaii Law Designed to Protect Vulnerable Seniors

In Honolulu, a new bill has been proposed and signed that will impose penalties on individuals and institutions that commit crimes against seniors in Hawaii. In earlier June, the bill was signed into law by Governor David Ige during the Hawaii State Capitol ceremony.

The objective of House Bill 490 is to improve the protection for kupuna, which is a Hawaiian word for an elder person. The increase in penalties applies to intentional or direct crimes against older seniors of 60 years or higher. Primarily, Bill 490 involves unauthorized entry, intended bodily harm, forgery, and theft.

The timing of the bill plays an integral role because there has been an increase in abuse against older citizens in Hawaii. Governor David Ige is optimistic to mitigate the impact of elder abuse and roll out more positive legislative efforts in the foreseeable future.

W.H.O. defines elder abuse as a lack of suitable action for a repeated or a single act that breaks the trust through distress or harm of a senior person. Under the Hawaii Code, the definition of elder abuse involves:

  • Physical pain through burns, bruising, bleeding, skin injuries, bone fractures, subdural hematoma, soft tissue swelling, or sexual assault
  • Other forms of physical harm such as malnutrition, poisoning, or dehydration
  • Mental distress
  • Exploitation of a senior’s personal assets or funds
  • Depriving a senior of basic necessities

It is crucial to understand that elder abuse extends to more than one form. Typically, financial abuse against senior citizens is the most common. In fact, senior citizens lose millions of dollars each year due to financial abuse. At the same time, elder abuse can be neglectful, emotional, and physical.

The penalties under the bill will be set in motion once there is a direct intervention. One of the highlights of Bill 490 is self-neglect among seniors that often results in self-harm or lack of access to basic needs like food, a safe environment, and medicine. Bill 490 also empowers public officers to exercise their power and enter a home of a potential victim and evaluate the case. If the situation demands immediate action, public officers will be able to relocate the senior citizen to a safe place.

When it comes to safeguarding the kupuna population in Hawaii, the issue hasn’t been able to garner too much attraction in the past. Ordinarily, it requires continuous focus on a high-profile case to propose and roll out a significant change.

As of now, there is an undeterred need to protect the interest and basic human rights of senior citizens in Hawaii. The new bill addresses legal parameters and builds up from previous efforts to safeguard senior citizens legally.

In recent years, there has been a surge of negligence and abuse in Hawaiian nursing homes. Fundamentally, it was the source and motivation behind the new law. It is disheartening to see the rise in elder abuse each year.

According to Assisted Senior Living, the most flagged Hawaiian nursing homes are among the most hostile with terrible services in the U.S. In Hawaii, nursing homes are responsible for mild to serious injuries to elder citizens. In some cases, the situation spirals out of control and leads to death.

Moreover, around 42 percent of Hawaiian nursing homes have been deemed as unfit to live for elder citizens because of their unsanitary conditions in cooking areas. When it comes to Hawaiian nursing homes, up to 17 percent of elder citizens have been harmed. Similarly, 33 percent of nursing homes in Hawaii and shared assisted living institutions have been found guilty of creating environments that are not accident-free. In more than 11 percent of Hawaiian nursing homes, elder citizens have developed mild to severe sores because of continuous negligence.

“We have continued to witness too many negligent, financial, assault-related abusive activities against our vulnerable kupuna population,” said Senator Sharon Y. Moriwaki – elected representative of Waikīkī, Ala Moana, and Kaka‘ako, McCully, Mo‘ili‘ili. The new bill is the result of continuous collaboration and effort between multiple county prosecutors and the Kupuna Caucus. We are confident that the bill will improve the protection and impose penalties on individuals and housing homes that intentionally commit crimes against senior citizens in Hawaii,” continued Senator Moriwaki.

Troy Hashimoto, the official representative of House District 8 also notes that it is high time for kupana to receive top-tier protection in the local community. Our kupuna has every right to feel safe in their own community and deserve additional protective measures that would deter bad actors to act in bad faith,” he noted as the representative of Wailuku, Waihe‘e, Waiehu, and Kupuna Caucus co-convener. The Kupuna Caucus comprises House and Senate members. The caucus also includes county and state government agencies, senior service officials, and local community advocacy groups.

“The goal of the bill is clear – to impose harsh punishment for anyone who decided to take advantage or hurt our kupuna,” continued Hashimoto.

Under the newly passed bill, nursing homes in the Hawaiian states have to provide the best protection to elder citizens. Under the Hawaii Code, the law now imposes strict civil penalties for elder abuse or neglect under Sections 28 and 94.

Nursing home caregivers who violate this law can face around a $1,000 penalty each day. The negligent or abusive nursing home caregivers will also have to cover the cost of the investigation and lawsuits. The current Statute of Limitations mandate that abused elder citizens can file a lawsuit within two years of sustaining injuries.

The new bill also directs towards a compensation plan to cover non-financial damages. But economic damages will be part of medical expenses, moving expenses, physiotherapy, or related treatment expenses. However, the bill doesn’t mention specific damages for mental abuse. In case of death due to negligence and other abusive acts, a suit will be filed against the nursing home for wrongful death. Legislators, lawmakers, and official representatives hope that the new bill will enlighten and raise awareness about elder abuse as one of the most serious offenses.


Lyle Solomon has considerable litigation experience as well as substantial hands-on knowledge and expertise in legal analysis and writing. Since 2003, he has been a member of the State Bar of California. In 1998, he graduated from the University of the Pacific’s McGeorge School of Law in Sacramento, California, and now serves as a principal attorney for the Oak View Law Group in Los Altos, California.


Suggested citation: Lyle Solomon, New Hawaii Law Designed to Protect Vulnerable Seniors, JURIST – Professional Commentary, July 30, 2021,

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