Stephen Nash, Conservator of the Estate of Charla Nash and Brianna Nash v. Lawrence A. Christiano and Donald F. Zezima, Co-administrators of the Estate of Sandra Herold: While lawyers for a Stamford woman who was attacked and disfigured by her friend’s chimpanzee in 2009 still hope to get permission to sue the state of Connecticut for $150 million, they have reached a smaller, $4 million settlement with the estate of the chimp’s owner.
The case of Charla Nash has drawn national headlines ever since 2009, when 200-pound Travis mauled Nash at the Stamford residence of Sandra Herold, who kept the animal as a pet. The chimp ripped off Nash’s nose, lips, eyelids and hands before being killed by police. Nash was blinded in the attack and underwent a well-publicized face transplant. She also had a double hand transplant but there were complications and the new hands had to be removed.
Nash, through her brother Stephen Nash, who was acting as conservator, sued Sandra Herold, who died in 2010 after the lawsuit had already been filed. The Nash family is represented by attorneys Charles J. Willinger Jr. and Matthew D. Newman, of Willinger, Willinger & Bucci in Bridgeport.
Newman said settlement talks between their side and Herold’s estate progressed on their own after mediation attempts to settle the case failed. “It took quite a bit of time to negotiate,” said Newman.
The settlement agreement filed in Stamford Probate Court calls for Herold’s estate to provide Nash with $3.4 million worth of real estate, $331,000 in cash, $140,000 worth of machinery and equipment and $44,000 in vehicles.
The lawyers said Herold’s real estate would be sold by the Nash family with the proceeds going towards her medical care.
Herold’s estate was represented by Brenden Leydon, of Tooher, Wocl & Leydon in Stamford. Leydon described the result as “a fair settlement for both sides.” Leydon acknowledged that the two sides were essentially limited to what Herold’s assets were in coming up with a settlement figure.
Nash’s lawyers, who declined to comment on how Nash herself felt about the settlement agreement, did not sound as pleased but were looking towards the possible suit against the state.
“The money that we have obtained for Charla is an insignificant amount in the scheme of things,” Willinger said. “It won’t nearly address her medical needs and her other lifestyle needs, not to mention pain and suffering. That is why we will pursue the entity we think is most culpable, the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection Department, for allowing Sandra Herold to possess the chimp in the first place.”
Nash’s family is trying to sue the state for $150 million, and is awaiting permission from the state claims commissioner. The state is immune from lawsuits unless they’re allowed by the commissioner. Nash holds the DEEP responsible for not seizing Travis before the attack, despite a state biologist’s warning that he was dangerous.
Lawyers in the state Attorney General’s Office are arguing that the state should not be liable for the actions of a privately-owned wild animal. Newman said he did not know when J. Paul Vance, Jr., the state’s claims commissioner, will rule on whether the suit can move forward.
According to details in the complaint, when he was young, Travis appeared in TV commercials for Old Navy and Coca-Cola as well as on “The Maury Povich Show.” The chimpanzee then became a longtime companion of the widowed Herold. Travis was fed steak, lobster and ice cream. The chimp could eat at the dinner table, drink wine from a stemmed glass, use the toilet and bathe and dress itself. He rode in the car with Herold and allegedly used the computer.
But the chimp’s behavior wasn’t always so domesticized. Nash’s lawyers claim that Travis, while out with Herold, bit a woman’s hand in 1996 and tried dragging her into the car. In 1998, he bit a man’s thumb. In 2003, he escaped Herold’s car and roamed the streets of Stamford for hours before finally being captured.
On Feb. 16, 2009, Travis was roaming around in Herold’s yard and she had difficulty getting him to come back inside. So Nash came over to help. When she arrived, Travis attacked her without provocation, according to her lawyers.
When police and emergency personnel arrived, Travis initially fled but then returned and attacked the police and EMTs. Travis damaged a police car and cornered an officer inside his vehicle. The officer then shot and killed the chimp.
Nash, meanwhile, was rushed to Stamford Hospital by ambulance where she underwent eight hours of emergency surgery just to keep her alive. She was next transferred to the Cleveland Clinic in Cleveland, Ohio. There, Nash underwent numerous surgical procedures on her face, eyes and hands. She also received physical, respiratory and occupational therapy, as well as counseling and other medical and nursing care.
In May 2011, Nash was admitted to Brigham & Women’s Hospital in Boston, to be evaluated as a candidate for a face and hand transplants. Later that month, a donor was identified and Nash underwent both the face transplant and hand transplants. But in June 2011, Nash underwent surgery for removal of the hand transplants as a result of infections and other medical complications.
Nash’s lawyers say the face transplant has improved Nash’s ability to eat, taste and smell. Since the face transplant, Nash has also received prosthetic eyes. Nash currently resides at a nursing and rehabilitation facility near Boston, where she requires round-the-clock care. Her lawyers say she continues to progress in her recovery and her strength is improving, though she will need to take antibiotics for the rest of her life. Nash still hopes to try another hand and forearm transplant.
However, her lawyers also say her trauma is unfathomable.
At a hearing before the state claims commissioner earlier this year, Willinger said that Nash lives “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. He said Nash “endures loneliness, despair and suffering beyond anyone’s comprehension.”•