HARTFORD, Conn. — Connecticut’s attorney general urged lawmakers Friday not to allow a woman disfigured in a 2009 chimpanzee attack to sue the state, saying she has his sympathy but the law does not support her claim seeking $150 million.
The victim, Charla Nash, sat behind Attorney General George Jepsen in the hearing room as he asked lawmakers to affirm a state official’s decision preventing her lawsuit.
“I am not here to diminish Ms. Nash’s suffering,” Jepsen said. “The law does not support this claim.”
Nash, 60, argues the state knew the animal was dangerous and should have seized it before it mauled her, leaving her blind and disfigured. Nash lost both hands and underwent a face transplant following the attack in Stamford. She was expected to make a statement at Friday’s 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.
The 200-pound animal, known as Travis, attacked Nash on Feb. 16, 2009, when she went to the home of its owner, Sandra Herold, to help her friend and employer to lure the chimpanzee back inside. The animal went berserk and ripped off Nash’s nose, lips, eyelids and hands before being shot to death by a police officer.
Nash resides at a Massachusetts convalescent center, where she is awaiting a second attempt at a hand transplant.
She reached a $4 million settlement in 2012 with the estate of Herold, who died in 2010. Nash’s attorneys say that will only cover a small portion of her medical costs.
Nash’s attorneys argue that the state law prohibited ownership of primates weighing more than 50 pounds without a permit, and officials had an obligation to seize the chimp because it was owned illegally by Herold. 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.”
The claims commissioner concluded that no law at the time of the attack prevented 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.”
On Friday, Jepsen said 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. “That would be a very dangerous precedent to set,” he said.