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Family of chimpanzee attack victim Charla Nash files suit against chimp's owner

March 18, 2009 |  4:47 pm

Attorneys Bill Monaco, Charles Willinger and Matthew Newman, from left, discuss their suit on behalf of Charla Nash, the victim of last month's chimpanzee attack The family of Charla Nash, the Connecticut woman who was attacked by a pet chimpanzee last month, has filed suit against the chimp's owner, Sandra Herold.  The $50-million lawsuit alleges that Herold "possessed a wild animal which she knew had exhibited aggressive behavior to one or more other persons and failed to take sufficient actions to safeguard third parties from the wild animal" and accuses her of in effect causing the attack through her own negligence.

Herold, a friend of Nash's, had kept Travis the chimp as a pet since his infancy.  Reports suggest Travis -- who grew to be 200 pounds and had starred in commercials for Coca-Cola and Old Navy -- was treated more as a human child than the wild animal he proved himself to be with the February attack that ended in his death by a policeman's bullet.  The Stamford Advocate reports:

Lawyers at the Bridgeport firm Willinger, Willinger and Bucci said at a news conference [Monday] that they have already asked the court to freeze Herold's assets, which include property in Stamford. The judge has issued a temporary hold on Herold's assets. A hearing on that issue is set for April 13 in Stamford.

They are also looking at the possibility of adding other defendants to the case.

"These animals are wild, wild animals and have no business being in anyone's home," said attorney Charles Willinger, whose firm is representing Nash along with the Long Island firm Kramer, Feldman and Monaco. "This is a dangerous animal and we believe Ms. Herold is liable as a matter of strict liability."

Herold's attorney, Joseph Gerardi of Stamford, said Herold should not be held liable for the attack.

"I believe it was a tragic accident," he said.

On the day of the attack, Travis apparently escaped Herold's home; Herold called Nash to help lure the animal back inside.  Upon Nash's arrival, Travis brutally attacked her.  The lawsuit describes her injuries as "catastrophic" and lists among them the loss of both her hands and "traumatic facial injury [including loss of her nose, upper and lower lips, eyelids and the bony structures in her mid-face]." 

Nash remains in critical condition at the renowned Cleveland Clinic.  "It will be a while before the full extent of her injuries will be known," according to the Charla Nash Trust website, which was set up after the attack to collect financial contributions toward her medical care.

-- Lindsay Barnett

Photo: Attorneys Bill Monaco, Charles Willinger and Matthew Newman, from left, discuss their suit on behalf of Charla Nash.  Credit: Doug Healey / Associated Press

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