ATLANTA (AP) — Nick Carusillo died when he was hit by several cars on the Georgia Interstate, just days after he was abruptly released from a drug treatment center. Now his parents are hoping that a substantial jury verdict in their favor will spark change that will help others suffering from mental illness and substance abuse.
Carusillo died on September 22, 2017, and in 2019 his parents filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the institution that released him and several people who were responsible for his care. Last week, a jury near Atlanta awarded them a total of about $77 million – $10 million for their son’s pain and suffering, $55 million for his life, $1 million in punitive damages, and the remainder for attorneys’ fees and expenses.
“This verdict is a confirmation for us,” Tina Carusillo told The Associated Press in a telephone interview on Wednesday.
“It wasn’t his fault. He was trapped in a bad system,” she said. “I hope that the size of this verdict will draw the attention of many people, from insurance companies to medical institutions, parents, loved ones and people in need of treatment.”
Lawyers for the institution that issued Carusillo — Metro Atlanta Recovery Residences, or MARR — did not immediately respond to an email Wednesday asking for comment on the verdict and whether they plan to appeal.
Carusillo has struggled with substance abuse since he was a teenager growing up in North Carolina. According to his father, he began to show signs of bipolar disorder in his late teens, and his diagnosis was confirmed by the age of 20. He was 29 years old, and when he was admitted to MARR on August 29, 2017, he was in and out of hospitals.
He was treating his bipolar disorder with a combination of lithium and seroquel, and when he arrived there he was medically stable, his family’s lawyers said in a court filing. A week later, on Sept. 5, 2017, a MARR doctor removed his lithium, despite being warned by Carusillo’s family and a longtime internist that he must continue taking his medication, the statement said.
Carusillo’s condition worsened and two weeks later, on September 19, 2017, he was forced to leave the facility after being told by staff that he had a mobile phone, which was forbidden.
The statement said MARR let him go to a sober home but did not inform the owner of Carusillo’s mental health issues. Carusillo left the teetotaler early the next morning in violation of curfew and was discharged the same day. The owner of the sober home gave him a ride to an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting.
His whereabouts were unknown until he lay down naked on Interstate 85 outside of Atlanta and was hit by multiple vehicles in the early hours of September 22, 2017, according to attorneys Natalie Woodward and Dax Lopez, who represent his family, in a statement. There were no illegal drugs or alcohol in his system.
Lawyers for MARR wrote in the lawsuit that the doctor stopped Carusillo’s lithium treatment after he complained of side effects. They wrote that Carusillo deliberately broke several rules at the facility and was told he would be fired for any further infraction. The next morning, employees of the institution found his mobile phone. The statement said that during a conference call with facility staff and his parents, Carusillo refused to go to a more intensive treatment facility and only agreed to go to a sobriety home.
Mike Carusillo said he hopes his son’s death and the big jury verdict will help speed up legislation to ensure proper staffing and guidelines in treatment facilities. According to Tina Carusillo, the Carusillos openly discussed their son’s difficulties in the hope of drawing attention to the resources available and reducing the stigma associated with mental illness.
She described her son, who had a son of his own, who was 5 years old when his father died, as handsome, cheerful, bright, generous. He was a talented athlete and played on the school football team.
“I must say that he was probably the best hugger I have ever known, and I really, really miss it,” said Tina Carusillo. “He was a generous, kind soul, and we miss him.”
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