By KATE BRUMBACK, Associated Press
ATLANTA (AP) — Nick Carusillo died when he was hit by multiple vehicles on a Georgia highway, just days after he was abruptly discharged from a drug treatment facility. Now her parents are hoping that a substantial jury verdict in their favor will lead to changes that will help others suffering from mental illness and addiction.
Carusillo died on September 22, 2017, and his parents filed a wrongful death lawsuit in 2019 against the facility that released him and several people responsible for his care there. A jury just outside Atlanta awarded them a total of around $77 million last week – $10 million for their son’s pain and suffering, $55 million for the value of his life , $1 million in punitive damages and the remainder for attorneys’ fees and costs.
“This verdict, for us, is validation,” Tina Carusillo told The Associated Press in a phone interview Wednesday.
“It wasn’t his fault. He was caught in a wrong system,” she said. “I hope the size of this verdict will inspire many people to pay attention, from insurance companies to facilities to parents, loved ones and people seeking treatment.”
Heather Saum Ware, an attorney at the facility that released Carusillo — Metro Atlanta Recovery Residences, or MARR — said in an email that they “plan to appeal and are not commenting further on the ongoing litigation.”
Carusillo has struggled with drug addiction since he was a teenager in North Carolina. He started showing signs of bipolar disorder in his late teens and his diagnosis was confirmed when he was 20, his father said. He was 29 years old and had been in and out of treatment facilities when he was admitted to MARR on August 29, 2017.
He was managing his bipolar disorder with a combination of lithium and Seroquel and was medically stable when he arrived there, his family’s attorneys said in a court filing. A week later, on September 5, 2017, a doctor at MARR took him off lithium, despite being warned by Carusillo’s family and longtime therapist that he should continue taking his medication, says the folder.
Carusillo’s condition deteriorated and he was forced out of the facility two weeks later on September 19, 2017, after staff said he had a cellphone, which was not allowed. .
MARR released him to a sober residence but did not inform the landlord of Carusillo’s mental health issues, according to the filing. Carusillo left the house sober early the next morning in violation of curfew and was released that day. The owner of the sober house dropped him off at 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 early on September 22, 2017, according to a statement from attorneys. Natalie Woodward and Dax Lopez, who represent her family. He had no illegal drugs or alcohol in his system.
MARR lawyers wrote in a court filing that a doctor discontinued Carusillo’s lithium treatment after complaining of side effects. Carusillo knowingly violated several facility rules and was told he would be fired for any other violations, they wrote. The next morning, staff at the facility discovered he had a cell phone. In a conference call with facility staff and his parents, Carusillo refused to go to a more intensive treatment center and only agreed to go to a sober house, the filing said.
Mike Carusillo said he hopes his son’s death and the grand jury’s verdict will help prompt legislation to ensure proper staffing and guidelines in treatment facilities. The Carusillos have discussed their son’s struggles openly in hopes of raising awareness of available resources and reducing the stigma of mental illness, Tina Carusillo said.
She described her son – who had a son of his own who was 5 when his father died – as a beautiful, funny, bright and generous person. He was a talented athlete and had been the kicker for his high school football team.
“I have to say he was probably the best hug I’ve ever had, and I really, really miss that,” Tina Carusillo said. “He was a generous and kind soul and we miss him.”
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