Washington State

House of Representatives

Office of Program Research



Judiciary Committee

HB 1726

This analysis was prepared by non-partisan legislative staff for the use of legislative members in their deliberations. This analysis is not a part of the legislation nor does it constitute a statement of legislative intent.

Title: An act relating to modifying certain definitions concerning vulnerable adults, including the definitions of abuse and sexual abuse.

Brief Description: Modifying certain definitions concerning the abuse of vulnerable adults.

Sponsors: Representatives Moeller, Jinkins, Tharinger and Appleton; by request of Department of Social and Health Services.

Brief Summary of Bill

  • Makes changes to the definitions of "vulnerable adult," "abuse," and other terms applicable to abuse of vulnerable adults.

  • Creates an affirmative defense to an allegation of physical abuse or improper use of restraint if the conduct was necessary to prevent an imminent danger of a substantial likelihood of harm.

Hearing Date: 2/5/15

Staff: Omeara Harrington (786-7136).


The Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS) investigates allegations of abandonment, abuse, financial exploitation, self-neglect, and neglect of vulnerable adults. The statutes regarding vulnerable adults require certain persons to report suspected incidents of mistreatment to the DSHS, and, in some cases, to law enforcement. Individuals found to have abused a vulnerable adult are prohibited from being employed in the care of vulnerable adults. In addition, a vulnerable adult, interested person on behalf of a vulnerable adult, or the DSHS may file a petition for an order for protection of a vulnerable adult who has been abandoned, abused, financially exploited, or neglected, or is threatened with such.

A vulnerable adult includes a person who:

"Abuse," as it pertains to mistreatment of vulnerable adults, is defined as willful action or inaction that inflicts injury, unreasonable confinement, intimidation, or punishment on a vulnerable adult. Abuse includes sexual abuse, mental abuse, physical abuse, and exploitation:

"Financial exploitation" is defined separately than "exploitation" and is the illegal or improper use, control over, or withholding of the property, income, resources, or trust funds of a vulnerable adult for any advantage other than the vulnerable adult's profit or advantage.

Summary of Bill:

Several changes are made to the definitions of terms concerning vulnerable adults.

The definition of vulnerable adult includes any person the DSHS reasonably believes to have a developmental disability based on school or medical records (in addition to persons who have a developmental disability as defined in statute).

Abuse includes financial exploitation, as well as personal exploitation. Additionally, abuse includes the improper use of restraint against a vulnerable adult, meaning the inappropriate use of chemical, physical, or mechanical restraints for convenience or discipline in manner that is: (i) inconsistent with facility licensing or certification requirements; (ii) is not medically authorized; or (iii) otherwise constitutes abuse.

Sexual abuse includes nonconsensual sexual conduct, or sexual conduct between a vulnerable adult and a facility staff person, rather than sexual contact.

Mental abuse is a willful verbal or nonverbal action (rather than a willful action or inaction of mental or verbal abuse) that threatens, humiliates, harasses, coerces, intimidates, isolates, unreasonably confines, or punishes a vulnerable adult. Mental abuse may include ridiculing, yelling or swearing.

It is a defense to an allegation of physical abuse or improper use of restraint that the alleged perpetrator reasonably acted to prevent an imminent danger of a substantial likelihood of harm to any person, the conduct was necessary to prevent the harm, and the conduct was proportional to the danger. This defense must be proven by the alleged perpetrator by a preponderance of the evidence.

Appropriation: None.

Fiscal Note: Available.

Effective Date: The bill takes effect 90 days after adjournment of the session in which the bill is passed.