Mrs. Anne “Nancy” Fiorito’s story is that of a life rich with family, friends and a loving husband of 70 years who relentlessly cared and fought for his wife until the very end. Nancy’s vibrant spirit and full life took a turn when she was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. When her husband could no longer care for her by himself at home, her family searched for a place where she could live out the rest of her years in comfort and safety. They decided on Cypress Village Assisted Living Facility in Jacksonville, where her husband, Joe, could visit daily and continue to physically help his wife.
As her disease progressed, Joe realized she needed more physical care than he could provide. For this extra assistance, he sought aides who are trained to care for patients with the challenging symptoms of Alzhiemer’s. Ultimately, he hired Vitas Healthcare Corporation of Florida to provide that caregiver assistance for daily living, including bathing, dressing and shampooing his wife’s hair.
Nancy’s caring and protective family made sure it was documented in her chart that she was particularly anxious about her hair being shampooed, and did not like water getting into her eyes. The document also requested a towel be placed over her eyes to keep water from running into them during a bath or shampoo.
At the start of care, Vitas had provided two aides to care for Nancy so they could address her anxiety and respond safely when she became combative and resistant as a result of her Alzheimer’s dementia. Without warning or explanation, Vitas began sending only one aide, even after this aide spoke to her supervisor and communicated that she needed more help in caring for Nancy. Vitas never provided additional help, despite the request.
On July 13, 2017, Nancy was receiving a bed bath and shampoo from a Vitas home health aide. During the shampooing, Nancy received a direct blow to her right eye, sustaining blunt force trauma, which resulted in a subconjunctival hemhorrage, a detached retina, and permanent blindness in her right eye.
These were serious injuries with life-changing outcomes. Vitas refused to fully compensate Nancy for her pain and suffering, and offered only $125,000. The team at Coker Law believed she deserved more. Vitas had been entrusted with her care, and should have understood her Alzheimer’s diagnosis and the challenge it provided. The care Nancy received in her last years should not have included blunt force trauma to her eye and permanent blindness.
It was heart-wreching for her family to sit in court and listen to the defense’s argument: since 87-year-old Nancy was elderly and had dementia, her life was worth little value. The defendants, despite knowing her combative nature, said they did not believe they should have provided additional staff to ensure her safety. “We felt that Vitas had committed the ultimate betrayal,” said Steve Watrel, Coker Law’s nursing home and assisted living abuse and neglect legal expert. “They robbed a human of her sight, one of the only comforts she had left, when they had promised her family they could and would take care of her.”
The jury agreed that abuse and neglect of the elderly is inexcusable, no matter what stage of life they are in. The jury awarded Nancy’s husband Joe and their family $2,447,500 and determined that Vitas would be legally responsible for the Plaintiff’s attorney’s fees and costs because they rejected a reasonable offer to settle under the Florida Rules of Civil Procedure.
Nancy’s loved ones are grateful that the justice system recognized this violation of trust and the verdict spoke volumes for the elderly community. “I’m extremely proud to represent such a deserving client,” added Watrel. “It was outrageous that a company who is entrusted to care for the frailest and most sick would treat their own patient in this manner. Vitas never took responsibility for what happened and even tried to blame the resident for her own injuries although they had no evidence. This case confirms that people will not tolerate the abuse of the elderly.”
Case Title: Joe M. Fiorito, as Personal Representative of the Estate of Anne J. Fiorito v. Vitas Healthcare Corporation of Florida
Attorneys/Staff Involved in Case: Attorneys: Steve Watrel, Chelsea Harris, Dan Iracki, Howard Coker and Aaron Sprague; Paralegals: Pat Hill and Leigh-Anne Morrill; Legal Assistant: Evie Jackson-Thomas; Trial Media Specialists: April Tapp and Alec Morrill
Date of Jury Verdict: May 6, 2021
Amount of Jury Verdict: $2,447,500.00