Chimp Victim's Family Seeking $50M From Owner

The family of Charla Nash is looking for $50 million from Nash's friend Sandra Herold, the owner of the chimp that went berserk and mauled Nash in February.

The family filed a lawsuit in Superior Court in Stamford against Herold, owner of the 200-pound chimp.

Herold had asked Nash to come to her home the day of the attack to help lure the animal named Travis back into her house. Herold has speculated that the chimp was trying to protect her and attacked Nash because she had changed her hairstyle, was driving a different car and was holding a stuffed toy in front of her face to get Travis' attention.

By Connecticut law, Nash's lawsuit seeks only an amount greater than $15,000. But Nash's attorneys are also seeking an account of Herold's assets -- including six pieces of property she owns and her stake in a Stamford used car dealership -- in hopes of securing $50 million for possible damages, according to court papers. Attorneys say it's unknown if Herold has that much in assets.

The lawsuit accuses Herold of negligence and recklessness for owning "a wild animal with violent propensities." It also claims that Herold lacked sufficient skill, strength and/or experience to subdue the chimpanzee when necessary.

The suit claims that Herold had given the chimp medication that further upset the animal. Herold has made conflicting public statements about whether she gave Xanax, an anti-anxiety drug, to Travis on the day of the attack. The drug had not been prescribed for the animal, police said.

Herold knew Travis was agitated when she asked Nash to come to her house on Feb. 16, the lawsuit said.

More parties could be added to the suit later, attorneys said. A hearing is scheduled for April 13.

Nash, 55, is being treated in the prestigious Cleveland Clinic for severe and debilitating injuries she suffered when Travis mauled her in February.

Nash lost her hands, nose, lips and eyelids in the 12-minute attack, officials at the Cleveland Clinic said. Many bones in her face were crushed, and the attack might also have left her blind and brain damaged.

"No amount of money can compensate my sister for the injuries she has suffered," Nash's brother Michael, the appointed conservator of his sister's estate, said in an affidavit.

"The bottom line is, our client Charla Nash has suffered and will continue to suffer agony and pain beyond our comprehension," Charles Willinger, Nash's attorney, said. "This is a tragedy that did not have to happen. These animals are wild and have no business being in anyone's home."

Another of Nash's attorneys said she can respond to some verbal commands, but the extent of possible brain damage is still unknown.

"Going forward, there's going to be astronomical expenses associated with the procedures she's going to require," attorney William Monaco said.

Police shot and killed Travis and the attack led to a statewide discussion on what pets people should and should not be allowed to have. 

Two other people have said that Travis bit them, in 1996 and 1998. A former animal control officer has said that she warned Herold after a 2003 escape that the pet's behavior was worrisome and she needed to keep it under control.

April Truitt, who runs the Primate Rescue Center in Kentucky, has said she warned Herold of the dangers of keeping the animal in her home. She said she pleaded with Herold to consider placing the chimp in a sanctuary, but Herold was not interested, saying: "You don't know my Travis."

When he was younger, Travis starred in TV commercials for Old Navy and Coca-Cola, made an appearance on the "Maury Povich Show" and took part in a television pilot.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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