Conn. chimp victim seeks OK to sue
HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — The Connecticut woman mauled by a friend’s chimpanzee in 2009 is making a last-ditch appeal to legislators in her bid to sue the state for $150 million, saying the attack has left her so reliant on others that she feels like she is locked in a cage.
Charla Nash makes her plea in a nearly seven-minute video that will be sent to members of the General Assembly’s Judiciary Committee. She says the state had the authority and obligation to seize the dangerous animal.
The state generally is immune to lawsuits, unless allowed by the claims commissioner. The legislative panel is scheduled to meet on Friday to hear testimony on a bill that would override the June decision by State Claims Commissioner J. Paul Vance Jr., who dismissed Nash’s request for permission to sue the state government. Nash also may appear in person at Friday’s hearing.
“I’m hoping that the legislation will allow me to have my day in court, that I will be able to have a judge listen to the evidence that is brought before him about the vicious attack on me and that it shall not happen to any other person again,” Nash said on the video, which The Associated Press viewed.
In her room at a Massachusetts convalescent center, where she is awaiting a second attempt at a hand transplant, Nash describes the difficulties she has endured over the past five years. The 60-year-old single mother was blinded, lost both hands and underwent a face transplant following the attack in Stamford.
“It’s a different world to not be able to see again or to use your hands and just do things for yourself. That you have to depend on other people for help now, it’s very hard,” Nash said.
“I feel like I’m locked up,” she said in the video. “I feel like I’m in a cage.”
Nash went to the home of the chimp’s owner, Sandra Herold, on Feb. 16, 2009, to help her friend and employer lure the 200-pound animal, known as Travis, back inside. But the chimpanzee went berserk and ripped off Nash’s nose, lips, eyelids and hands before being shot to death by a police officer.
Nash reached a $4 million settlement in 2012 with the estate of Herold, who died in 2010. Nash’s attorneys said that will only cover a small portion of her medical costs.
It is unusual for state lawmakers to overturn denials issued by the state claims commissioner, but Nash hopes her appeal will resonate.
“It’s a shame that this attack had to happen, unfortunately,” she said. “But now I’m trying to work the best I can to have my sanity. I want to be as normal as I can be.”
In an appeal of Vance’s decision, Nash’s lawyers in July claimed the state law that was in place at the time of Nash’s attack prohibited the ownership of primates weighing more than 50 pounds without a permit.
The state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection had the “unequivocal authority to seize an animal whose existence threatened public health and safety,” Nash’s attorneys wrote. Because the chimp was owned illegally by Herold the lawyers contend the state was obligated to seize it.
Months before the attack, a state biologist warned state officials in a memo that the chimpanzee could seriously hurt someone if it felt threatened, saying “it is an accident waiting to happen.”
Vance concluded that no law at the time of the attack prevented Herold from owning the chimpanzee. He added: “If there was a failure by the DEP (now referred to as DEEP) to seize the animal ... the duty owed was to the general public and does not create a statutory obligation to ensure the safety of a private individual.”
State Attorney General George Jepsen has said state law on the issue was ambiguous and difficult to enforce.
In the video distributed to state legislators, Nash is seen attempting to navigate down a hallway of the nursing home, feeling her way along the wall.
“I really miss seeing a whole lot,” she said. “I think there’d be so much more I could be doing handicapped if I could see what I was doing. I think I could figure out how I could use a foot or a toe to do something. Not being able to see makes it a lot harder.”