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Connecticut fights chimp victim’s effort to sue state

Connecticut’s attorney general says Charla Nash, who was mauled by a chimpanzee in 2009, should not be allowed to sue the state, and taxpayers should not be held liable for injuries inflicted by a privately owned animal.
/ Source: NBCConnecticut.com

Connecticut’s attorney general says Charla Nash, who was mauled by a chimpanzee in 2009, should not be allowed to sue the state, and taxpayers should not be held liable for injuries inflicted by a privately owned animal.

Nash wants to sue the state, claiming it failed in its duty to restrict the ownership of dangerous animals as pets and protect residents from harm. Her case is pending with the claims commissioner.

The attorney general's office argued in legal papers on Thursday that Nash's proper remedy is with the chimp owner or other private parties.

"They have to be able to prove that the state's negligence was the sole cause of what happened, and in this case, pretty clearly that's not the situation," George Jepsen said.

Jepsen discussed state law on "dangerous animals" at the time of the attack and said the state did not have the authority to remove Travis the chimp from his owner, Sandra Herold.

Herold died in 2010.

Jepsen states in court documents that statue requires that claimants go through the claims commissioner, rather than file a lawsuit, and that the claims commissioner should bar the claim because "no legally cognizable duty of care was owed the claimant by DEP," referring to the state's Department of Energy and Environmental Protection.

In court documents, Jepsen said the state does not dispute that Nash suffered serious injuries, but the state and taxpayers should not be financially liable for “injuries inflicted by a privately owned chimpanzee” on the theory that state environmental officials should have more aggressively enforced wildlife regulations.

The state says Nash was aware wild animals such as the chimp can be dangerous and told others she was afraid of the chimp.

The Associated Press left a message was left with Nash's attorney.

Nash had a face transplant after the 2009 attack.

In response to the attorney general's filing, Matthew D. Newman, an attorney for Nash, issued the following statement:

"Today, the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, through the Attorney General’s office, filed a document with the Claims Commissioner asking that Charla Nash’s claim be dismissed. While this action was anticipated, Charla is deeply disappointed that the State of Connecticut takes this position. The State seeks to deny Charla the opportunity to have a hearing before the Claims Commissioner to determine whether she can obtain permission to sue the State. She should be allowed to seek compensation for the catastrophic injuries she suffered as a direct result of the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection’s failure to seize and dispose of the chimpanzee.

As a matter of law, we believe that Charla is entitled to a hearing before the Claims Commission. In our response to the Attorney General’s motion to dismiss we will highlight facts that clearly point to the culpability of the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection including its intimate knowledge of Travis and the danger he posed. The Claims Commissioner is described as “the conscience of the State,” and it is our belief that it would be unconscionable to deny our client the opportunity to be heard.

The Charla Nash story is the subject of a new eBook by NBC News, “The Woman Who Lost Her Face,” with a special introduction by Meredith Vieira For more information, click here.

For information about the Charla Nash Trust, click here.

The Associated Press contributed reporting to this story.