NEW HAVEN, Conn. (AP) — A woman disfigured by a friend’s pet chimpanzee in 2009 plans to appeal a decision denying her permission to sue the state for $150 million on her claim that officials knew the chimp was dangerous but didn’t do anything about it, her attorney told The Associated Press on Tuesday.
The state claims commissioner on Friday approved the state’s motion to dismiss Charla Nash’s claim, saying the law at the time allowed private ownership of chimpanzees and didn’t require officials to seize legal animals. The state generally is immune to lawsuits, unless allowed by the claims commissioner.
Nash’s lawyer, Charles Willinger Jr., said he plans to appeal the decision by Claims Commissioner J. Paul Vance Jr. to the state legislature. Willinger says the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection should be held responsible for not seizing the chimpanzee before the attack because it had been warned that the chimp was dangerous.
“We think the decision is wrong and flawed, and we hope to convince the members of the Judiciary Committee that our position has a solid legal basis and would represent a just and reasonable resolution for the massive injuries Charla sustained as a direct result of the DEP’s negligence and failure to adhere to the statutory mandate to seize and dispose of the chimp,” said Willinger, of the Bridgeport law firm Willinger, Willinger & Bucci.
Nash was blinded, lost both hands and underwent a face transplant after being mauled in Stamford. She reached a $4 million settlement last year with the estate of the chimp’s owner, Sandra Herold, who died in 2010.
State Attorney General George Jepsen’s office declined to comment on Tuesday. But a spokeswoman agreed with the decision on Friday.
“While we have the utmost sympathy for Charla Nash, we agree with the claims commission that a regulatory statute does not provide a basis to sue the state,” Jepsen spokeswoman Jaclyn Falkowski said then.
Nash had gone to Herold’s home on Feb. 16, 2009, to help lure her friend’s 200-pound chimpanzee, named Travis, back inside. But the chimp went berserk and ripped off Nash’s nose, lips, eyelids and hands before being shot to death by a police officer.
Travis had starred in TV commercials for Old Navy and Coca-Cola and made an appearance on “The Maury Povich Show.” The chimpanzee was fed steak, lobster and ice cream and could drink wine from a stemmed glass, use the toilet and bathe and dress itself.
It previously had bitten another woman’s hand and tried to drag her into a car in 1996, had bitten a man’s thumb two years later and had escaped from Herold’s home and roamed downtown Stamford for hours in 2003 before being captured, according to Nash’s lawsuit against Herold.
Nash, 59, now lives in a nursing home outside Boston.
Several months before the attack, a state biologist warned state officials in a memo that the chimpanzee could seriously hurt someone if it felt threatened, saying “it is an accident waiting to happen.”
Jepsen has acknowledged that the biologist had warned that the chimp was dangerous. But he said state law on the issue was ambiguous and difficult to enforce and there was no guarantee a court hearing would have led to a seizure order.