BRADENTON, Fla. – A jury has awarded $1.2 million to a 93-year-old Bradenton woman who was stung by fire ants in her nursing home bed two years ago — but it's unlikely she'll ever see a penny.
Pearl Smith (search) was attacked at the Surrey Place nursing home (search) in April 2002. Photos of the then 90-year-old woman showed her arm, neck, back and upper torso covered in blisters from the stings.
Smith's attorney, Michael Kohl, said his client will not likely collect the jury award because the company, Consulting Management and Education Inc. (search), was without liability insurance and their debts exceed assets. The company was not represented by attorneys at Thursday's hearing.
Jon Clarke, a Denver bankruptcy attorney who advised the company two years ago, said the company was no longer in business and owes millions of dollars of uncollected judgments to numerous people.
"The judgment is just a piece of paper unless you can find assets," Clarke said.
Jurors awarded Pearl Smith $600,000 for the pain and anguish she suffered and $600,000 for future pain and suffering, Kohl said.
"Am I hearing right?" Smith's niece Lona Gibson asked Kohl when she heard the size of the award.
"We won, yeah, and won big," Gibson said, "but how can you collect from somebody that's run?"
Surrey Place is now under new management. Shelley Christian, the nursing home's administrator, declined comment on the jury award Friday but said the facility has always had a pest control program and "is committed to providing quality care."
Smith lived at Surrey Place from December 2001 until June 2002. On April 8, 2002, nurse Gary Heistand wrote that Smith was itching and then noticed multiple red blotchy areas, which became "numerous pustules over her upper torso areas, arms, back and neck as a result of uncontrolled fire ants," the lawsuit said.
Kohl said Smith could not get out of bed and get away from the fire ants. "She ended up suffering longer than she should have because they didn't have enough staff," he said.
In 2000, an 87-year-old woman, Mary Gay, died after being stung more than 1,600 times by fire ants in a North Port nursing home. The nursing home was closed for a month after the attack.