Chimp Attack Victim Charla Nash Denied Permission To Sue

Chimp attack victim Charla Nash has been denied permission to sue the state of Connecticut for her disfiguring injuries.

In February 2009, Nash went to the home of her friend Sandra Herold in Stamford, Conn., to help lure Herolds’s 200-pound chimpanzee, Travis, back inside. The chimp went berserk, however, attacking Nash and ripping off her nose, lips, eyelids, and hands before the animal was shot and killed by a police officer.

Nash, who was also blinded in the horrific attack, subsequently underwent a face transplant.

Last year, Nash previously received a $4 million settlement from Herold’s estate, which is expected to cover only a small fraction of her ongoing medical bills. Herold passed away in 2010

Nash and her lawyers wanted to sue the state’s Department of Energy and Environmental Protection for $150 million for failing to seize the animal when the state was on notice of its dangerous proclivities. Under Connecticut law, a green light from the state’s claims commissioner is a prerequisite to such a legal action.

Claims Commissioner J. Paul Vance Jr. turned down Nash’s opportunity to take her claim into superior court in determining that the state was not liable. A hearing on the claim was held last August; Vance’s ruling was issued yesterday.

In his decision, Vance wrote, in part that “While it is lamentable that Ms. Nash was injured by the chimpanzee, in order to overcome the presumption of sovereign immunity … she must show that the legislature either expressly or by implication, waived the state’s sovereign immunity. At the time Ms. Nash was attacked, there was no statute that prohibited the private ownership of the chimpanzee nor was there any statutory language that would have created a duty [by the state] to Ms. Nash as a private person.”

The legal doctrine of sovereign immunitymeans in general that a person ordinarily can’t sue the state (or federal) government or any of its agencies for money damages unless the state agrees to let the lawsuit go forward.


Vance reached this conclusion even though a state biologist warned the DEP in writing in late 2008 that the powerful primate was “an accident waiting to happen.”

The state banned private ownership of chimpanzees after this attack occurred.

Nash can appeal Vance’s ruling to the state legislature.

Do you agree with the claims commissioner’s decision denying chimp attack victim Charla Nash her day in court?