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Charla Nash Attends Hearing In Chimpanzee Attack Case

Charla Nash on Friday, Aug. 10, 2012 (credit: Marla Diamond/WCBS 880)

Charla Nash on Friday, Aug. 10, 2012 (credit: Marla Diamond/WCBS 880)

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HARTFORD, Conn. (CBSNewYork/AP) – The state Claims Commissioner is being urged by the Office of the Attorney General to dismiss a claim against the state filed by Charla Nash, the Stamford woman severely disfigured by a chimpanzee in 2009.

Nash attended Friday’s hearing.

She is seeking permission to sue the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection for $150 million in damages, accusing the agency of failing to seize the animal before the mauling despite a staff member’s warning that it was dangerous.

WCBS 880’s Marla Diamond reports

“I hope and pray that the commissioner will give me my day in court,” Nash told reporters following the hearing. “And I also pray that I hope this never happens to anyone else again. It is not nice.”

In February 2009, Sandra Herold’s 200-pound pet chimp Travis attacked Nash as she was trying to lure it back into Herold’s house. It ripped off her nose, lips, eyelids and hands. The attack left her blinded.

Police shot the chimp dead.

Herold, who was Nash’s employer, died in 2010 of an aneurysm. Herold raised Travis as if he were human, CBS 2’s Tony Aiello reported. The chimp was a local celebrity in Stamford, but also a source of concern for state wildlife officials.

One of them sent an email warning about Travis, saying, “He could really hurt someone. It is an accident waiting to happen.”

Assistant Attorney General Maite Barainca told Claims Commissioner J. Paul Vance Jr. that Nash deserves sympathy for her plight and admiration for the courage she has shown in dealing with her situation, but argued that the state should not be held liable for actions of the privately owned animal.

“There is no claim that the state directly caused Ms. Nash’s injuries. The state did not own or possess the chimp that attacked her, and played no role in letting the chimp loose that day in 2009 on private property,” said Barainca.

The state argues that it is immune from being sued, and was not legally obligated to seize Travis even though his owner lacked the necessary wildlife permit.

Charles Willinger, Nash’s attorney, said his client lives in a nursing home outside Boston “in total darkness, without eyes, without hands.” He said she is “permanently scarred, emotionally, physically” and will never be able to see her daughter again or hold her hand. He said Nash “endures loneliness, despair and suffering beyond anyone’s comprehension in this room,” and urged Vance to be the “conscience of this state” when deciding whether to allow her to sue.

Last year, the 57-year-old Nash had a full face transplant at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston. Doctors also attempted to perform a double hand transplant on Nash, but unfortunately they had to be removed.

Willinger said millions of dollars in bills are mounting.

“She’s on, I think, 17 different medications. She needs operations. She needs therapy. One day she’s going to need special accommodations in her home. She’s going to need 24-hour care,” he said, adding how no one knows how long Nash’s face transplant will last. “There are tremendous, significant bills and it’s a situation of quality of life.”

Nash described her feelings of loneliness to reporters.

“I miss home,” said Nash, who wore sunglasses and a turquoise top, and was accompanied by her brother Steve. “You know, when you’re in a facility, you’re alone. It’s hard. But I’m thankful that I’m still here.”

Vance is expected to issue a decision on the state’s motion to dismiss the case within 30 days. If he rules in favor of the state, Nash cannot proceed with a hearing on the merits of her claim. She could, however, appeal to the General Assembly and ask state legislators to overrule the commissioner’s decision.

If, however, Vance denies the state’s motion to dismiss, a trial-like hearing will be held before him. Vance would then have to decide whether to allow Nash to sue the DEEP in superior court.

As for her current recovery, Nash said she’s slowly getting more feeling in her face as nerves heal, and she’s hoping for a hand transplant later this year.

(TM and Copyright 2012 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2012 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)