Chimp Attack Victim Asks State for Permission to Sue State

The woman mauled by a chimpanzee in Stamford, Conn., in February 2009 is making a last-ditch appeal to Connecticut lawmakers in her bid to sue the state for $150 million.

Charla Nash is attending a Judiciary Committee hearing on Friday to describe to lawmakers the ordeal she has endured for the past five years.

Nash lost her nose, lips eyes and hands in when she was mauled. After what doctors have called a miraculous recovery, she received a face transplant and has been recuperating in a Boston rehabilitation facility.

On Friday afternoon, she took the stand and made a brief statement.

“I’m hoping that you can make a decision based on the information based (that) the state knew what was happening and failed to protect me,” she said.

Nash, who is still nursing wounds on her head, asked the committee to allow the suit so she can pay her medical bills and have a chance to live a comfortable life.

“Just as important, I want to make sure what happened to myself never happens to anyone again,” she said.

Nash contends that the state had the authority and obligation to seize the dangerous animal, but a state commissioner last year dismissed Nash's request for permission to sue the state government.

This public hearing is on a bill that would override the claims commissioner's decision.

Before the hearing, Nash made an impromptu statement to the media and said the state's system of filing legal action is broken.

Attorney Charles Willinger, who represents Nash, spoke before the committee and said what the members will hear will shock them, and facts about DEEP’s failure to act will be "appalling."

He said the chief purpose of government is to keep citizens safe.

“The DEEP has failed miserably in this regard,” Willinger said.

Nash claims the state knew about the danger the chimp, Travis, posed, but did not do anything about it. They also pointed out a memo from a state agency that warns the chip was "an accident waiting to happen."

“It’s been a very long road. It’s been five years since she was attacked,” Matthew Newman, one of Nash’s attorneys, told the Today Show recently. “And all we’re looking for is an opportunity to have all the evidence heard, and for a judge to make a decision based on all the evidence and the law.”

Attorney General George Jepsen spoke during the hearing and said he is sympathetic, but the law does not support Nash's claim and would open the floodgates to several other lawsuits.

One member of the committee posed the question of what happens when the state has knowledge of a danger, as it did with Travis.

A member of Jepsen's staff cited the public claim doctrine and said the state legislature would have to change the law to allow someone to sue in a case like this.

At the time of the attack, Connecticut did not include primates in the list of dangerous animal banned in the state.

In 2004, the state required people to have permits for primates over 50 pounds, in response to Travis leading police. 

However, Sandra Herold, the chimp's owner, did not get a permit and DEEP chose not to go after the chimp, according to statements Jepsen's staff made. 

After the brutal attack, statutes were changed to ban individuals to own primates.

The Attorney General's staff said allowing Nash to sue the state in this case would "open the floodgates."

Willinger argued against this, claiming allowing his client to sue would not bankrupt the state.

In a video Nash sent to members of the legislature's Judicial Committee, Nash explains the challenges she's endured.

"I feel like I'm locked up," she said in the video. "I feel like I'm in a cage."

When she spoke today, she reiterated that her day-to-day life is difficult.

She added that she hopes to help prevent a similar attack from happening in the future.

“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 in the video.

Nash was blinded, lost both hands and underwent a face transplant following the attack in Stamford.

"The last five years have been a lot of work, and, you know, a lot of challenges, and I'm up for the challenges," Nash said in the video. "It's a shame that this vicious attack had to happen... but now I'm trying to work the best I can to have my sanity and I just, I want to be as normal as I can be."

Quinnipiac University School of Law Professor John Thomas said he's doubtful Nash's appeal will stand up in court.

"It's really the responsibility of the owner," he explained. "The state, under extraordinary circumstances, could have come in and seized the animal, but all indications are that the owner would have opposed that."

She reached a $4 million settlement in 2012 with the estate of the chimp's owner, who died in 2010.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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