Chimp attack victim to ask Connecticut lawmakers permission to sue state

Reuters News
Posted: Mar 21, 2014 10:26 AM

By Richard Weizel

MILFORD, Connecticut (Reuters) - A woman whose face and hands were ripped off by a friend's chimpanzee in a 2009 attack that left her blind will ask a Connecticut legislative committee on Friday for permission to sue the state for $150 million.

Charla Nash, 60, who has undergone a face transplant and numerous other surgeries, including a failed double-hand transplant, is now living in a Boston area convalescent facility where she is highly dependent on staff.

"I feel locked up ... like I'm in a cage," she said, in a seven-minute video sent to members of the Connecticut General Assembly's Judiciary Committee.

"I hope lawmakers will allow me to have my day in court, that I will be able to have a judge listen to the evidence that is brought before him about the vicious attack on me, and that it shall not happen to any other person again."

The General Assembly has the authority to pass legislation overruling a June decision by State Claims Commissioner J. Paul Vance Jr. denying her request to waive Connecticut's sovereign immunity against lawsuits.

Her lawyers say that before the attack, the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environment Protection (DEEP) described the illegally owned 200-pound chimp as a serious threat to public safety and an "accident waiting to happen".

Her legal team argues she has the right for a court to decide whether to find the state negligent, despite Connecticut's sovereign immunity law that makes it difficult to sue the state in such cases.

Nash won a lawsuit against the chimp's owner, Sandra Herold, reaching a $4 million settlement in 2012 that comprised most of her late friend's estate.

Nash's attorney, Charles Willinger of Bridgeport, said Connecticut was one of only several states in the country that still maintains sovereign immunity, and the only one where a single claims commissioner makes the decision.

"This case is about the systemic, institutional gross negligence of the Department of Energy and Environment Protection, from the commissioner all the way down to its police force," Willinger said.

"What we're asking for is to let a court of law decide whether the DEEP was negligent."

In the video to lawmakers, Nash described her daily ordeal.

"It's a different world to not be able to see again or to use your hands and just do things for yourself," she said.

"That you have to depend on other people for help, it's very hard."

(Editing by Barbara Goldberg and Sophie Hares)