Chimp attack victim appeals to legislators for permission to sue Connecticut

Courtesy of Nash Family
Thursday, March 20, 2014 - 8:00am

A Connecticut woman mauled by a friend's chimpanzee in 2009 describes in a new video what it was like waking up in a hospital after the attack.

Unaware she had lost her vision, Charla Nash said she asked her brother Mike to turn on the lights.

"He said the lights are on," Nash remembers, and "little by little, it started to come together."

Nash was attacked while trying to help coax her friend's 14-year-old pet chimpanzee back into her house. Travis the chimp, which had appeared in television commercials for Coca-Cola and Old Navy, jumped on Nash, biting and mauling her.

Police later fatally shot Travis to stop the attack, which left Nash without hands, a nose, lips or eyelids.

"I remember laying in the room, and I remember sometimes I would try to scratch my leg, and then I wasn't feeling it," she said.

"It's a different world to not be able to see again or to use your hands and do things for yourself that you have to depend on other people for help now," Nash said.

The seven-minute video, released to Connecticut state legislators, features an interview with Nash and footage of her walking around the private medical facility where she lives and receives daily assistance for her injuries.

Representatives for Nash will present her case to the Connecticut State Judiciary Committee on Friday in hopes that legislators will allow her to proceed with a $150 million lawsuit against the state. By law, anyone seeking to sue the state of Connecticut must seek permission to do so.

Since the attack five years ago, Nash has had numerous surgeries, including a face transplant. She sued Sandra Herold, the owner of the chimp, and received $4 million for her injuries, but according to spokesman Shelly Sindland, that settlement doesn't even begin to cover the expenses for her treatment.

Part of the $150 million she's seeking would fund a hand transplant, which doctors unsuccessfully attempted at the time of her face transplant. Nash hopes they will be able to try again.

"I want ... to be able to do more on my own," Nash said.

Nash is still waiting for an opportunity to square off against the state for injuries she contends could've been prevented.

Sindland said authorities at the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection ignored a memo sent in October 2008, four months before the attack, from Connecticut state biologist Elaine Hinsch that said Travis the chimp was "an accident waiting to happen."

The state, Sindland alleges, "knew that the chimp was a danger" but didn't do anything to remove it from the home.

Dennis Schain, director of communications for the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, told CNN he is aware of the memo, but he said all statements from the case must come from the state Attorney General's Office.

In a statement to CNN, Connecticut attorney general spokeswoman Jaclyn Falkowski said, "The legal question in this case is: Did the state owe a legal duty to protect Ms. Nash from attack by a privately owned chimp on private property? Under well-settled law, it did not."

"While we have the utmost sympathy for Charla Nash, we do not believe that the state is liable for Ms. Nash's injuries. To decide otherwise would set a very dangerous precedent, exposing the state and its taxpayers to unlimited liability and costly litigation."

In June, the Office of the Claims Commissioner denied Nash her request to sue the state for $150 million.

Friday's appeal is the last opportunity for her to get permission to move forward with a lawsuit, and even if it makes it through committee, it would then have to be voted through both the state's House and Senate before moving forward.

"I'm hoping the legislation will allow me to have my day in court," Nash said.

CNN's Haimy Assefa contributed to this report.

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