Chimp attack victim who lost face sought $50 million, doesn’t get it

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<i>This post has been updated. See below for details.</i>

A woman who lost her face and her hands when her friend’s chimpanzee turned on her has reached a settlement in a lawsuit filed after the attack and will receive about $4 million -- an amount her attorney says is far less than needed to cover a lifetime of medical care.

The suit had initially sought $50 million from Sandra Herold, whose 200-pound chimp, Travis, attacked Charla Nash in February 2009 outside Herold’s home in North Stamford, Conn.

Herold, who died in 2010 of a ruptured aortic aneurysm, had called Nash to come over and help lure Travis back into her house after he escaped. The 14-year-old chimp went berserk, ripping off Nash’s nose, hands, lips and eyelids before being shot dead by a police officer.


Nash, now 57, underwent a face transplant last year, but she is blind, has no hands and lives in a nursing home outside of Boston. Her lawyer, Charles Willinger, has described her life as one of loneliness, despair and suffering. Nash also is hoping to sue the state of Connecticut for $150 million, alleging it knew Travis was a threat based on previous escapes and encounters with humans.

Thursday’s settlement was “grossly inadequate to address the pain and suffering Charla has endured ... and does not begin to address Charla’s mounting medical bills and life care needs,” Willinger said in a statement provided to the Los Angeles Times.

[Updated on Nov. 30, 10:22 a.m.: This post includes updated quotes and confirmation from plaintiff attorney Charles Willinger.]

The attorney representing the estate of Herold, Brenden Leydon, disagreed. He would not confirm details of the settlement but said he and his clients felt it was “a fair compromise on all sides, and we are pleased to resolve the matter,” AP reported.

According to the Nash family, Travis had a history of attacking people and escaping Herold’s home. In a deposition filed as part of its effort to sue the state, the owner of a private zoo in Greenwich, Conn., testified that Herold had called her in a panic in 2008 -- a year before Nash’s mauling -- after Travis escaped.

“She was yelling at me to get my dart [tranquilizer] gun and get over there and help her,” Marcella Leone said. Leone said Herold later told her everything was under control.


Court papers also alleged that Travis, who in his younger days appeared in television commercials, had over the years tried to drag a woman into a car, bitten a man, and escaped Herold’s home at least once. The lawsuit against Herold accused her of failing to install adequate locks and take other measures that would have prevented Travis from escaping, and giving Travis medications that “exacerbated the chimpanzee’s violent propensities.”

The state’s attorney general has sought to block the $150-million suit, but the Connecticut claims commissioner has yet to rule on whether it can go ahead. The state cannot be sued without the claims commissioner’s approval.

“A chimpanzee is a wild beast and has no business being in a private residence,” Willinger said in the statement.


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