ATLANTA (WUPA) — The family of a man killed while struggling with mental health issues won by a multi-million dollar lawsuit in DeKalb County, and now they’re drawing attention to the case.
A jury awarded $77 million to the family of Nicholas Carusillo, setting a record as the biggest verdict of its kind in Georgia.
“The verdict was really redemption for validating his life and the care that he deserved,” said Natalie Woodward, an attorney representing the family.
“We had to file this lawsuit because we weren’t getting the answers from the facility, from the healthcare providers,” his father, Michael Carusillo.
According to the lawsuit, in September 2017, Nick Carusillo was forced out of the MARR addiction treatment center in Doraville for having a cell phone, which violated the center’s policy. A few days later, he was hit by several vehicles on I-85, as he laid naked in a fetal position.
Photo: Warshauer Woodward Atkins Trial Attorneys
The Carusillo family traveled from their home in Huntersville, North Carolina for the trial and for Wednesday’s press conference, describing how they first recognized Nick’s drug abuse when he was 17.
They later learned he had bipolar disorder and brought him from North Carolina to Atlanta for treatment.
Nick’s parents cited several failures they believe led to the tragedy, including a process that allows one person to sign off on a discharge instead of requiring multiple signatures.
“One of the most egregious parts about this case is the lengths to which this particular facility went to, to hide the truth from this family,” said Dax Lopez, another attorney representing the Carusillos.
Attorneys for MARR say they plan to appeal the verdict and declined further comment.
An attorney for Dr. Richard Waldman, who was listed as a plaintiff in court documents, issued the following statement:
“It was a hard-fought case throughout the entire trial. Plaintiffs and Dr. Waldman entered a high-low agreement while the jury was deliberating, which means the case is over as to him. He will not be involved in the appeal of this cases.”
The family is now honoring the memory of the 29-year-old father by using their platform to raise awareness for mental illness and drug addiction.
“Nick was an outgoing, fun-loving, beautiful, funny, generous person,” said Nick’s mother, Tina Carusillo, also reflecting on his years as the starting kicker on his high school football team.
“Nick was always champion for the underdog, so he would never want someone to go through what he went through,” said his sister, Jessica Carusillo Long.
They’re hoping the lawsuit sends a strong message to health care providers and insurance companies.
“These facilities have to recognize how important it is what they’re doing and hold themselves to the same level as physical healthcare facilities,” said Woodward.
“It’s gonna happen again, but we hope it starts saving lives out there of people we don’t even know,” said Michael Carusillo.
While Nick Carusillo is no longer with them, they say the verdict gives him a voice.
“He would say, ‘Job well done,'” said Tina Carusillo.
They’re urging more families to talk about mental illness, remove the stigma behind it and ask more questions to hold treatment facilities accountable.