Lawmakers: Deny chimp victim's bid to sue state

Lawmakers: Deny chimp victim's bid to sue state

April 2nd, 2014 by Associated Press in Local - Breaking News

Charla Nash speaks to the media before attending a public hearing with Connecticut at the Legislative Office Building in Hartford, Conn., in this March 21, 2014, file photo.

Photo by Associated Press/Times Free Press.

HARTFORD, Conn. - A woman blinded and disfigured in a 2009 chimpanzee attack said Wednesday she is "heartbroken" that Connecticut lawmakers recommended she not be allowed to sue the state for financial damages, adding that she had hoped to tell her side of the story in a courtroom.

Charla Nash claimed state officials knew the 200-pound chimp could be dangerous and was being kept without a permit before it went on a violent rampage that cost Nash her nose, lips, eyelids and hands before it was shot to death by a police officer.

"This process isn't fair," Nash said in a written statement. "I wanted a chance to be able to pay my medical bills and get assistance I need to live as normal of a life as possible."

While not specific about her possible legal options, Nash said she's not giving up hoping, saying, "this means too much to my daughter Briana and me."

The legislature's Judiciary Committee voted 35-3 in favor of upholding last year's decision by State Claims Commissioner J. Paul Vance Jr., who refused Nash's request for permission to sue the state of Connecticut.

The General Assembly still has the option of approving Nash's suit but that's considered to be an uphill battle. The bill now moves to the House of Representatives.

Vance and state Attorney General George Jepsen maintain the state did not have a duty to protect Nash, who was attacked on private property in Stamford. Nash had come to help her friend and employer Sandra Herold lure the woman's pet chimp, named Travis, back inside, but the animal went berserk.

In his decision last year, Vance said: "There was no statute that prohibited the private ownership of the chimpanzee" at the time Nash was attacked, "nor was there any statutory language that would have created a duty to Ms. Nash."

He added, "If there was a failure by the DEP 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 such as (Nash)."

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." State lawmakers did approve a ban on chimpanzees and other animals deemed dangerous a few months after Nash was mauled.

Nash originally sought $150 million from the state, but her lawyers later told lawmakers she would accept significantly less.

While acknowledging it was "next to impossible to not have some sympathy" for Nash, Sen. Eric Coleman, D-Bloomfield, the committee's co-chairman, said he agreed with Vance and Jepsen.

Some committee members spoke about the difficulty in voting against Nash, who had impressed them with her courage earlier this month when she appeared at a public hearing with her daughter. Nash has undergone a face transplant and is currently living in a Massachusetts convalescent home, awaiting a hand transplant.

"It was heart-wrenching to see her daughter feed her a little bit of lunch because she couldn't even grasp the food with her arms," said Sen. John Kissel, R-Enfield, the highest-ranking Republican senator on the committee. "Nonetheless, it's very difficult, if not impossible, to find a legal basis that would afford her an ability to sue the state without, in my opinion, opening up the state to innumerable claims."

Nash reached a $4 million settlement in 2012 with the estate of Herold, who died in 2010. Nash's attorneys have said that will only cover a small portion of her medical costs.

While she receives Social Security disability and Medicaid payments, Nash's housing, treatment and meals at the nursing home cost about $16,000 a month, according to her attorneys. That amount does not include outside medical care, medication costs and surgeries.