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Chimpanzee attack victim faults state officials

HARTFORD — Lawyers for a Connecticut woman severely disfigured in a chimpanzee attack have filed papers accusing state officials of failing to seize the animal before the mauling despite a staff member's warning that it was dangerous.

Attorneys for Charla Nash filed documents Wednesday with the state claims commissioner that explain why she should be allowed to sue the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection for $150 million. The commissioner must approve any lawsuit against the state. A hearing is set for Aug. 10 before Claims Commissioner J. Paul Vance Jr.

The chimpanzee named Travis ripped off Nash's nose, lips, eyelids and hands before being killed by police outside Nash's friend's home in Stamford. Nash, who was permanently blinded, has had several surgeries including a face transplant. She remains at a nursing home outside of Boston.

Her family first sought permission to sue the state in 2009, months after the attack, and the allegations against the state in the latest filings are not new.

State Attorney General George Jepsen has said the state should not be held liable for the mauling. He has acknowledged that a state biologist had warned that the chimp was "an accident waiting to happen" before the attack. But Jepsen said state law on the issue was ambiguous and difficult to enforce, and there was no guarantee a court hearing would have led to a seizure order.

Jepsen has asked Vance to reject the request to sue the environmental agency, formerly known as the Department of Environmental Protection.

Lawyers for Nash said in the new filing that she is a "traumatically injured woman who, but for the failure of the DEP to follow its statutory and common law duty, and the systemic, institutional negligence of the DEP, would be living a normal life with hands and eyes and face with which she was born."

Nash's lawyers also wrote that the DEP "chose not only not to seize the chimpanzee, but to simply ignore the fact that the accident was waiting to happen."

Nash also has a $50 million lawsuit pending against the estate of the chimpanzee's owner, Sandra Herold, who died in 2010.


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