According to the Tampa Bay Times (02/5/12), Elvira Nunziata was 92 years old in 2004, when she fell down a stairwell and died at a Pinellas Park nursing home. At the time, Nunziata suffered from dementia and was confined to a wheelchair. It is believed she accessed the stairwell through a door that may have been left open by an employee who went outside for a cigarette.
The nursing home where Nunziata died reportedly had a history of deficiency citations and complaints about abuse. Furthermore, former employees complained that the home was often understaffed. Witnesses, including former caregivers at the home, testified that Nunziata suffered other falls and injuries while at the home, and said staff knew the victim often wandered off. The nursing home reportedly did not find Nunziata for an hour, despite alarms on the door she went through and on Nunziata's clothing and wheelchair.
In a jury verdict in January 2011, the company that operated the nursing home was ordered to pay $200 million in the wrongful death lawsuit, filed on behalf of the victim's estate by her son. Included in the award was $60 million in compensatory damages and $140 million in punitive damages, Tampa Bay Times (1/13/11) reports. A lawyer for the plaintiff told news sources that he thought the award was the largest ever handed out in a Florida nursing home abuse lawsuit.
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The victim has since passed away. A representative for the nursing home issued a statement that the home's residents receive state-of-the-art care and that they would defend the lawsuit. The victim's family, however, claims that the victim was not sent to the hospital until two days after the alleged assault, that the victim's husband was not told about the sexual assault allegations and that staff resisted requests from a hospital to report the situation to police (as reported by LJ World; 1/19/12).