Legal Tactic Could Restrict Compensation for Chimp Attack Victim

Chimp's victim is blind, can barely walk and can only eat through a straw.

ByABC News
October 15, 2009, 6:03 PM

Oct. 15, 2009— -- The owner of a 200-pound chimp named Travis who went berserk and ripped the face off of the owner's friend has enraged some by trying to avoid a $50 million lawsuit, claiming the crippling attack should be treated instead as a workman's compensation claim.

If a judge agrees, it would mean Charla Nash – who was blinded in the attack, has difficulty walking and can only eat through a straw – would not be entitled to receive any money for pain, suffering, humiliation or loss of enjoyment of life, which usually makes up the largest part of any civil award.

Trial lawyers are buzzing about the case. On industry Web sites, like, some are expressing outrage that Nash might not get to sue for a large civil claim. Michael Phelan, a Virginia-based attorney, writes, "This frivolous legal maneuver benefits the defendant chimpanzee owner's insurance company."

The legal strategy may have some merit, said Joseph Little, a professor emeritus at the University of Florida Levin School of Law and a specialist in workers' compensation issues. He said the argument might prevail if lawyers can prove that there was a regular employment relationship between Nash and Travis' owner Sandra Herold, and taking care of the chimp was part of those duties.

"Although the facts here are unusual as is often true in extreme cases…I don't think the claim itself is so unusual. If you substitute the chimp for a dangerous machine, it doesn't seem so unlikely," said Little.

At the time of the sensational incident last February, Nash, 55, worked for Herold in Stamford, Conn., as an assistant at her home. Herold's home was also the site of the business office for her towing company, Desire Me Motors.

On the night of the incident, Travis went after Herold. When Herold called Nash for help, the chimp turned on her and attacked.

Travis was later shot by police and Nash remains at the Cleveland Clinic recovering from her injuries. Herold told police she had given the chimp Xanax that day to calm him down, although she later retracted that statement. A multimillion-dollar civil suit was filed against Herold in Stamford Superior Court a few weeks after the attack.

But on Sept. 28, an injury claim was filed on Nash's behalf with the Connecticut Worker's Compensation Commission. The report describes the accident as "attacked helping to shepard (sic) chimpanzee back to residence -- multiple injuries to multiple body parts."