The victim of a brutal 2009 attack by a chimpanzee is seeking to hold the state of Connecticut liable for her injuries for failing to enforce animal control regulations and protect the public. Charla Nash, who suffered severe and disfiguring injuries in the attack, alleges that the state had warnings that the chimpanzee could be dangerous. Police shot and killed the chimpanzee while the attack was occurring. Nash also sued the chimpanzee’s owner, who passed away in 2010.
Nash was visiting her friend Sandra Herold at Herold’s Stamford, Connecticut home on February 16, 2009. Travis, a thirteen year-old, 200-pound chimpanzee, was roaming the grounds at the time of Nash’s visit. Travis had starred in television commercials and was highly socialized, reportedly even dressing and bathing himself and using a computer to look at pictures. For reasons that remain uncertain, Travis attacked Nash. While Herold reportedly stabbed at Travis with a butcher knife and hit him with a shovel, Travis blinded Nash and tore off her hands, lips, eyelids, and nose. The attack also caused Nash traumatic brain injury. Police shot and killed the chimpanzee.
Nash required months of hospitalization to recover from wounds described as “life-changing, if not life-threatening.” An attempt to transplant new hands by doctors in Boston was not successful, but they successfully performed a face transplant in August 2011. Nash continues to recover from that procedure to this day.
A Connecticut man travelling in Vermont recently brought an injured bobcat to the Guilford Welcome Center near the Vermont-New Hampshire state line. A state game warden had previously received a report of a bobcat hit by a vehicle on Interstate 91 on the morning of Sunday, March 25, 2012, but she was unable to locate the animal. She then received a call regarding this man who picked up the bobcat and transported it to the welcome center in his vehicle. The warden found the bobcat laying in the back seat of the man’s car, clearly suffering multiple broken bones.
The warden informed the man of the risks he had faced driving with the bobcat in his car. Had the animal woken up, it does not have the behavioral constraints expected of domesticated animals. This particular bobcat reportedly weighed about twenty-five pounds and could have done very serious damage by biting or scratching. In fact, the bobcat reportedly grew more alert and active while the warden waited for a veterinarian to arrive. She stated that the animal, clearly suffering a great deal of pain, began biting the car seats. In order to safely sedate the bobcat, she had to first use a Tazer to incapacitate it. Once it was sedated, the veterinarian quickly determined that the bobcat was too badly injured to be rehabilitated. The decision was made to euthanize it the same day.
Bobcats are wild animals with a geographic range over much of the continental United States and Canada. They are about twice the size of a typical housecat, weighing roughly eleven to thirty pounds. Bobcats are usually nocturnal and solitary, avoiding humans wherever possible. At the same time, they can be quite formidable, with powerful legs that enable them to pounce up to ten feet. Human contact, particularly in close quarters, is best avoided.
The man’s heart was in the right place in trying to save the bobcat, but he also put himself at considerable risk for injury. Had the bobcat bitten the man, it is highly unlikely that he would have had any sort of claim for damages against anyone. A person injured by an animal, or someone injured because of reasonable fear of attack by an animal, might be able to make a claim against the animal’s owner, or the person directly responsible for controlling the animal. Wild animals in the wild have no owners and are not subject to anyone’s control.
Dog bite injuries and the terror that often accompanies such attacks often leave physical and emotional scars which last a lifetime. For younger persons so injured they may carry with them a fear of dogs for many years and be deprived of perhaps one of the most satisfying emotional engagements with other living creatures possible. It is known that certain breeds of dogs such as Rotweillers and Pit Bulls together are responsible for the majority of serious attacks requiring hospitalization and surgeries. This is likely due, in large measure, to their comparatively greater bite force strength relative to other breeds. Also, Pit Bulls are hesitant to relinquish the attack.
In Connecticut, a form of strict liability exists for such dog bite encounters provided that the person so attacked has not in effect provoked the attack. Normally, the person or entity financially liable to the victim of the attack is the owner or keeper of the Dog. This sometimes can be a source of uncertainty and litigation.