Society

Chimp Attack Victim Charla Nash Appeals For Right To Sue Connecticut

| by Sarah Fruchtnicht

A Connecticut woman who lost her face and hands when a chimpanzee mauled her in 2009 is appealing to lawmakers for the right to sue the state for $150 million.

Charla Nash has undergone numerous surgeries, including a face transplant, after a friend’s pet chimp, Travis, attacked her on Feb. 16, 2009.

Nash, 60, lost her hands, nose, lips, mid-face bone and eyes. Her jaw had to be reattached during her first 72-hour surgery. The attack also left her blind.

The 13-year-old monkey was shot dead by Stamford police when he tried to attack an officer.

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In a video appeal to state lawmakers, Nash asks to “have my day in court.”

Her legal team says the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environment Protection (DEEP) knew the 200-pound chimp was illegally owned and described it as a serious threat to public safety.

"My name is Charla Nash and I'm hoping you can make a decision based on the fact that the state knew what was happening and failed to protect me," she said in the video.

In October 2008, four months before the attack, state DEEP biologist Elaine Hinsch wrote a memo to her supervisors concerning Travis.

"The issue of the private ownership of Travis the chimpanzee continues to be a concern as to public safety," Hinsch wrote in the memo. "The animal has reached adult maturity, is very large and tremendously strong. I am concerned that if he feels threatened or if someone enters his territory, he could seriously hurt someone."

"As you are aware, this is the same chimpanzee that escaped from the owner's car and led local police on a wild chase for hours in downtown Stamford until the animal could be secured back in the car,” she added.

Nash wants lawmakers to overrule a June decision by state Claims Commissioner J. Paul Vance Jr. which denied her request to waive the state’s sovereign immunity from lawsuits.

“It’s a different world to not be able to see again or to use your hands and just do things for yourself,” Nash said. “I miss waking up in the morning with the sun. It was always nice to look out, to see what kind of day it was going to be.”

The appeal asks members of the legislature’s Judiciary Committee to give her the right to seek $150 million in damages in a court of law.

"I want the chance to pay my medical bills and live a comfortable life. But I also want to make sure that what happened to me never happens to anyone else ever again," she said.

She now lives in a Massachusetts convalescent facility where she is highly dependent on staff for care.

“I feel like I’m locked up,” she said.

"You and Charla Nash have given us a lot to go over," State Senator John Kissel, a member of the Judiciary Committee, told Nash’s attorney Charles Willinger. "Everyone knows I walked in here today more inclined to agree with the attorney general. But there is a lot of information you have brought to our attention that we need to carefully consider."

Nash previously sued the owner of the chimp, her friend and employer, Sandra Herold, who died in 2010. She settled for $4 million, almost the entirety of Herold’s estate.

Sources: Yahoo!, CBS New York