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Chimp attack victim denied $150 million lawsuit against state

By Morgan Winsor, CNN
updated 12:27 PM EDT, Mon June 17, 2013
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • A friend's pet chimp mauled Charla Nash in 2009
  • The state should've removed the chimp years ago, her attorney says
  • There are no grounds for suing Connecticut, officials say
  • Travis the chimp had appeared in TV commercials for Coca-Cola and Old Navy

(CNN) -- A Connecticut woman who had her face destroyed by a friend's pet chimpanzee was denied permission Friday to sue the state for $150 million, according to the Office of the Claims Commissioner.

The state had the authority to remove the chimp from its owner years ago, but neglected to, an attorney for Charla Nash argued. The attack left Nash without a nose, eyelids, lips or hands, said attorney Matthew Newman.

The attack occurred in 2009 in Stamford, Connecticut, as Nash tried to help a friend coax her 14-year-old pet chimp back into the house. Travis the chimp, which had appeared in television commercials for Coca-Cola and Old Navy, jumped on Nash and began biting and mauling her. Police later fatally shot Travis to stop the attack.

Nash filed a claim in November 2009, seeking permission to sue Connecticut's Department of Energy and Environmental Protection for damages, Claims Commissioner J. Paul Vance Jr. said in a memorandum of decision.

Though officials sympathize with Nash, a regulatory statute does not provide a basis to sue the state, according to Jaclyn Falkowski, spokeswoman for the Office of the Attorney General.

Connie Culp was injured when her husband shot her in 2004. She underwent a near-total face transplant at the Cleveland Clinic in 2008 -- the first operation of its kind in the United States. Connie Culp was injured when her husband shot her in 2004. She underwent a near-total face transplant at the Cleveland Clinic in 2008 -- the first operation of its kind in the United States.
Face transplant patients
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Photos: Face transplant patients Photos: Face transplant patients

"To decide otherwise would mean that the state simply could not afford to pass regulations intended to promote order and safety," she said in a statement.

Two years after the attack, Nash became the third person to receive a full face transplant at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston. Doctors also attached two new hands, but they had to remove them a few days later after she fell ill.

Nash is now considering her next step, her attorney said.

"Our only option is to ask the Connecticut General Assembly to review the claim commissioner's decision," Newman said.

Family spokesman Ara Chekmayan said: "We feel that the state Department of Environmental Protection failed to protect Charla from a known danger and today she has been denied the right to seek compensation for the catastrophic and irreversible damage inflicted upon her."

Face transplant patients: Where are they now?

CNN's Jordana Ossad contributed to this report.

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