A bill motivated by a California senior living operator’s handling of an evacuation during wildfires in 2017 was signed into law Wednesday by state Gov. Gavin Newsom.

S.B. 314 adds “abandonment” to the list of offenses warranting enhanced civil remedies under the state’s Elder Abuse and Dependent Adult Civil Protection Act. Under the law, a defendant in a lawsuit is required to pay attorneys’ fees and damages to the plaintiffs “when it is proven by clear and convincing evidence that the defendant is liable for physical abuse or neglect, as defined, and the defendant has also been found guilty of recklessness, oppression, fraud, or malice in the commission of that abuse.”

State Sen. Bill Dodd (D), the bill’s sponsor, said he introduced the legislation in response to the treatment of residents at two Oakmont Senior Living communities in Santa Rosa, CA, as wildfires destroyed one of the communities, Villa Capri, and damaged the other, Varenna. No resident at either community died in the fire, but more than 20 residents at Villa Capri would have died if they had not been evacuated by family members and public safety workers after staff members left with some residents, state investigators said. Oakmont previously said the allegations were “unfounded.”

The state Department of Social Services originally had petitioned to remove the licenses from the Villa Capri and Varenna communities, along with the licenses for the sites’ executive directors, but Oakmont and the state reached a settlement related to the evacuation late last year.

“This new law stands for the principle that we must always meet our obligations to seniors, especially in times of emergencies,” Dodd said in a statement. “Simply leaving them to fend for themselves in the face of disaster is unacceptable. I thank Gov. Newsom for supporting this measure, which will encourage caretakers to do the right thing.”

Approximately 150,000 older adults live in assisted living communities in the Golden State, according to the senator.

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