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AG Says State Not To Blame In Charla Nash Case

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Charla Nash (Brigham and Womens Hospital Photo)

Charla Nash (Brigham and Womens Hospital Photo)

By JOHN CHRISTOFFERSEN
Associated Press

NEW HAVEN, Conn. (AP) _ A woman mauled by a chimpanzee should not be allowed to sue the state, because taxpayers should not be held financially liable for injuries inflicted by a privately owned animal, a Connecticut official said.

Charla Nash wants to sue the state over allegations that 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.

In 2009, the 200-pound chimpanzee named Travis ripped off Nash’s nose, lips, eyelids and hands before being shot to death by police. Nash was blinded in the attack and has since had a face transplant.

A Department of Environmental Protection biologist warned state officials before the attack that Travis could seriously hurt someone if he felt threatened, noting that he was large and strong. In 2009, Nash’s family sought permission to sue the state for $150 million.

Attorney General George Jepsen said the state recognizes Nash’s injuries are “profound.”

“Rather, the central dispute in this claim is whether the state and its taxpayers should be financially liable, to the tune of potentially tens of millions of dollars, for injuries inflicted by a privately owned chimpanzee on the theory that DEP should have more aggressively enforced certain wildlife regulations,” Jepsen wrote. “It should not.”

Jepsen acknowledged the DEP biologist had said the chimp was “an accident waiting to happen.” But he said DEP officials believed the law at the time was ambiguous and difficult to enforce.

“Even if a court agreed that Travis’ possession was contrary to law, no guarantee can be made that a court proceeding, particularly a contested hearing seeking to remove a treasured and longtime companion with no prior history of notable aggression, would have resulted in a seizure order,” Jepsen wrote.

Messages were left with Nash’s attorneys.

Nash’s proper remedy is with the chimp owner or other private parties, Jepsen said. Nash has a $50 million lawsuit against the estate of Sandra Herold, the chimp’s owner who died in May 2010.

Nash was aware wild animals such as the chimp can be dangerous and told others she was afraid of the chimp, according to Jepsen. He said Nash never contacted any public official to complain about Travis.

If the claims commissioner denies the request to seek damages from the state, the family could appeal to the legislature. Without its consent, the state cannot be held liable in a legal action for any damage or injury it may cause.

(Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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