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Chimp Attack Victim Asks Again For Right To Sue State For $150M

Charla Nash speaks with reporters on March 21, 2014. (Credit: Al Jones/1010 WINS)

Charla Nash speaks with reporters on March 21, 2014. (Credit: Al Jones/1010 WINS)

HARTFORD, Conn. (CBSNewYork/AP) — A woman disfigured in a 2009 chimpanzee attack appealed Friday for permission to pursue a $150 million lawsuit against the state.

Charla Nash, 60, appeared briefly before a legislative committee Friday to argue that officials knew the animal was a threat and failed to take action.

Nash told lawmakers the money could help her pay medical bills, cover around-the-clock nursing care and give her a chance at a comfortable life.

“There’s a lot of things I cannot do. I cannot feed myself, I cannot bathe myself,” Nash, who wore gauze over her head to protect a lingering infection from the attack, told reporters before the hearing.

Last year, State Claims Commissioner J. Paul Vance Jr. refused Nash’s request for permission to sue the state, but the General Assembly’s Judiciary Committee is considering a bill that would override that decision. The state generally is immune from lawsuits unless allowed by the commissioner.

Nash’s attorney Charles Willinger said the state Department of Environmental Protection was warned four months before the attack that Travis the chimp could seriously hurt someone if it felt threatened. A state biologist warned state officials in a memo that “it is an accident waiting to happen.”

“Not only were they negligent, they were grossly negligent,” Willinger said.

“The state knew what was happening and failed to protect me,” Nash said.

The claims commissioner concluded that no law at the time of the attack prevented Sandra Herold from owning the chimpanzee. He added that if the state had failed 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.”

Charla Nash seeks right to sue state, March 21, 2014. (credit: Marla Diamond/WCBS 880)

Charla Nash seeks right to sue state, March 21, 2014. (credit: Marla Diamond/WCBS 880)

The state is claiming sovereign immunity from Nash’s lawsuit.

Connecticut Attorney General George Jepsen said “she deserves both our deep sympathy and our profound admiration for how she has handled her challenges,” but told lawmakers the state cannot be held responsible for the actions of a privately-owned pet.

“Did the state owe a legal duty to protect Ms. Nash from attack by a privately owned chimp on private property? It did not,” Jepsen said.

He argued that if Nash is allowed to sue, claiming the state was negligent in not seizing the animal, others will likely pursue lawsuits concerning alleged negligence involving millions of state permit and license-holders. Jepsen said there are “cases waiting in the chute” for a decision in the Nash request.

“It would be like opening up a Pandora’s box because it would expose the state’s taxpayers to virtually unlimited liability,” Jepsen told WCBS 880’s Fran Schneidau before the hearing. “It’s a terrible tragedy, there’s no question about that, but that does not give someone the right to sue the state when the state did not actually cause her injuries.”

Lawmakers in Hartford will decide the issue by vote before the end of the session in May, Schneidau reported.

Nash was mauled on Feb. 16, 2009 when she went to Herold’s Stamford home to try to help her friend and employer lure the 200-pound chimp back inside.

Nash was blinded, lost both hands and underwent a face transplant in 2011 following the attack. She resides at a Massachusetts convalescent center, where she is awaiting a second attempt at a hand transplant.

Nash reached a $4 million settlement in 2012 with the estate of Herold, who died in 2010 of an aneurysm.

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