Family of chimp attack victim seeks $50M

March 17, 2009 10:37:07 AM PDT
The family of a woman mauled by a chimpanzee filed a lawsuit seeking $50 million in damages against the primate's owner, saying she was negligent and reckless for lacking the ability to control "a wild animal with violent propensities." Attorneys for Charla Nash, who remains in critical condition, filed the lawsuit against Sandra Herold late Monday in Superior Court in Stamford.

The suit also alleges that Herold had given the chimp medication that further upset the animal. Herold has made conflicting public statements about whether she gave Xanax, an anti-anxiety drug, to Travis on the day of the attack. The drug had not been prescribed for the animal, police said.

Herold knew the 200-pound chimp, Travis, was agitated when she asked Nash to come to her house on Feb. 16, the lawsuit said. The suit accuses Herold of negligence and recklessness for owning "a wild animal with violent propensities, even though she lacked sufficient skill, strength and/or experience to subdue the chimpanzee when necessary."

"Our client, Charla Nash, has suffered and will continue to suffer agony and pain beyond our comprehension," attorney Charles Willinger said at a news conference in Bridgeport. "This is a tragedy ... that should not have happened."

Nash, 55, lost her hands, nose, lips and eyelids in the 12-minute mauling. Many bones in her face were crushed, and the attack may also have left her blind and brain damaged. She is in critical condition at the Cleveland Clinic, which in December performed the first face transplant in the United States. Doctors haven't said if Nash will be a candidate for such a procedure.

Another of Nash's attorneys said she can respond to some verbal commands, but the extent of possible brain damage is still unknown.

"Going forward, there's going to be astronomical expenses associated with the procedures she's going to require," attorney William Monaco said.

By state law, Nash's lawsuit seeks only an amount greater than $15,000. But Nash's attorneys are also seeking an account of Herold's assets - including six pieces of property she owns and her stake in a Stamford used car dealership - in hopes of securing $50 million for possible damages, according to court papers. Attorneys say it's unknown if Herold has that much in assets.

"No amount of money can compensate my sister for the injuries she has suffered," Michael Nash, the appointed conservator of his sister's estate, said in an affidavit. "Nevertheless, it is my belief that probable cause exists that judgment will enter in favor of the plaintiff in the amount of at least $50 million."

The judge granted a temporary restraining order that prevents Herold from selling or mortgaging her assets, and scheduled an April 13 hearing on the attorney's request for detailed financial information from Herold.

Herold had asked Nash to come to her home in Stamford on the day of the attack to help lure Travis back into her house. Herold has speculated that the chimp was trying to protect her and attacked Nash because she had changed her hairstyle, was driving a different car and was holding a stuffed toy in front of her face to get Travis' attention.

The animal was shot and killed by police, who are weighing whether to file criminal charges against Herold.

Two other people have said that Travis bit them, in 1996 and 1998. A former animal control officer has said that she warned Herold after a 2003 escape that the pet's behavior was worrisome and she needed to keep it under control.

April Truitt, who runs the Primate Rescue Center in Kentucky, has said she warned Herold of the dangers of keeping the animal in her home. She said she pleaded with Herold to consider placing the chimp in a sanctuary, but Herold was not interested, saying: "You don't know my Travis."

When he was younger, Travis starred in TV commercials for Old Navy and Coca-Cola, made an appearance on the "Maury Povich Show" and took part in a television pilot.


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