Chimpanzee attack victim Charla Nash urges state officials to let her sue Conn. for $150 M
Charla Nash sits before a hearing at the Legislative Office Building in Hartford, Conn., on Aug. 10, 2012. Nash who was mauled in a 2009 chimpanzee attack is attending a hearing to determine whether she may sue the state for $150 million in claimed damages. / AP Photo/Jessica Hill
(CBS/AP) HARTFORD, Conn. - The woman mauled by a chimpanzee three years ago says she hopes and prays a state official will ultimately grant her request to sue the state of Connecticut, which she holds responsible for not seizing the animal.
However, the attorney general's office urged a state official on Friday to dismiss her claim. Assistant attorney general Maite Barainca said while Charla Nash deserves sympathy for her plight and admiration for how she's handled it, the state is not liable for the actions of the privately own animal.
Charla Nash attended a hearing Friday before the Claims Commissioner on a motion filed by the state to dismiss Nash's claim. She's seeking permission to sue the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection for $150 million in damages.
Her attorney, Charles Willinger, says Nash is accruing millions of dollars in bills for everything from nursing home care to about 17 medications.
If Nash were allowed to sue, Barainca said, the state would be financially vulnerable for every regulatory failure, such as a state-licensed doctor who harms a patient.
"We simply may not be able to afford many of the regulations that we rely on for public order and public safety," she told state Claims Commissioner J. Paul Vance Jr., who presided over a hearing on the state's motion to dismiss Nash's claim. Vance is expected to act within 30 days.
Nash, who underwent a face transplant in 2011, told reporters she hopes the commissioner "will give me my day in court." She says life is hard, but she's thankful to be alive.
She was attacked in February 2009 by a friend's 200-pound pet chimpanzee after its owner asked Nash to help lure it back into her house in Stamford, Conn. The animal, named Travis, ripped off Nash's nose, lips, eyelids and hands before being shot to death by police.
Nash was blinded in the attack. She underwent a face and double hand transplant in 2011, but the hands failed to thrive because of complications and were removed.
After the face transplant, Nash's outlook was more positive.
"I will be able to smell," Nash said in a written statement after the surgery. "I will be able to eat normally. I will no longer be disfigured. I will have lips and will speak clearly once again. I will be able to kiss and hug loved ones."
Six months later, she told NBC's "Today" that the transplant had begun to mold to her face structure, and people were beginning to tell her that she was beautiful. She could also begin to smell the perfumes the nurses around her were wearing.
Nash accuses the state agency of failing to seize the animal before the mauling, despite a staff member's warning that it was dangerous.
Charles Willinger, Nash's attorney, said his client lives in a nursing home outside of Boston "in total darkness," "without eyes, without hands." He said she is "permanently scarred, emotionally, physically" and will never be able to see her daughter again or hold her hand.
She "endures loneliness, despair and suffering beyond anyone's comprehension in this room," said Willinger, who urged Vance to be the "conscience of this state."
Willinger said the chimp had been on the state agency's radar since 2003, when it escaped from its owner and ran loose in Stamford. It was the only chimpanzee in the state and was commonly referred to as "the gorilla in Stamford."
State officials have contended they did not have the authority to seize the animal.
Several months before the attack, a state biologist warned state officials in a memo that the chimpanzee could seriously hurt someone if it felt threatened, saying "it is an accident waiting to happen."
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