The Little Rock Zoo

.The Little Rock Zoo needs to step up and care for the animals better! Please read the several artciles here with deaths, sickness and a bald chimp!

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Ct Chimpanzee Case, Sandra Herold, 50M

Everyone knew that after a 14-year-old chimpanzee mauled a woman in Stamford, Conn., a huge lawsuit was coming. Now that the first legal steps have been taken, Connecticut lawyers are watching to see if the case breaks new ground in state tort law.

Lawyers for Charla Nash filed property liens and a request for a temporary restraining order March 16 against former chimpanzee owner Sandra Herold, in the first step to recovering damages for Nash's near-fatal injuries.

The papers seek to legally freeze the financial status of Herold's home and three other properties, including a one-time used car business, Desire Me Motors, that she owned with her husband, Jerome, who died in 2004. The restraining order also prevents sale or removal of more than $500 in personal property, other than in the normal course of business.

The Bridgeport, Conn., firm of Willinger, Willinger & Bucci, is representing the plaintiff, and says it will seek $50 million in damages. Its legal argument is that Herold is strictly liable for owning a wild animal, and that she was negligent and reckless for doing so. "There's no amount of care that is adequate for this kind of ultra-hazardous activity," said attorney Matthew Newman, a partner in the Willinger firm and lead counsel on the case.

But Stamford lawyer Joseph L. Girardi, who is representing Herold, sees it another way.

He said a strict liability tort -- which would hold his client liable simply for owning the animal -- doesn't apply. "In the Connecticut law of torts, under wild animals, there are no cases of strict liability," he said.

He said that the plaintiffs must show negligence, meaning in this case proving that Herold had prior knowledge that the chimp had violent tendencies. And Girardi says that she did not.


The civil action is being brought by Nash's twin brother Michael, currently her conservator. The complaint has not yet been formally filed, but a copy of it accompanied the request for the restraining order.

The complaint echoes themes from many published news stories -- that Travis the chimpanzee was pretty much treated like a person, and that this wasn't his first brush with trouble. According to the complaint, Travis drank wine from stemmed glasses, ate at the table, dressed himself and even used a computer on occasion.

However, the complaint states that the chimp bit a woman on the hand in 1996 and tried to drag her into a car. In 1998, the chimp reportedly bit a man on his thumb. And in 2003, the chimpanzee escaped from Herold's car and wandered for hours in downtown Stamford traffic.

On Feb. 16, Travis escaped from Herold's home in Stamford, and she summoned her friend Nash to help her get him back into the house. Although Travis was familiar with Nash, some people have speculated he was confused by the fact that she was driving a different car and had changed her hairstyle.

In any case, he attacked her, ferociously biting at Nash's face and hands. A Stamford police officer, temporarily trapped in a car by Travis, shot him in self-defense.

Nash needed eight hours of surgery in Stamford Hospital and was airlifted to the Cleveland Clinic three days later, where she has remained in a medically-induced coma, said Newman.

The proposed complaint states that Nash's injuries include the loss of both hands, plus her nose, lips, eyelids and the bones in her mid-face. She has experienced some traumatic brain injury, Newman said. Doctors at the Cleveland Clinic bring her out of her induced coma for brief periods of time, he said, "to test neurological functioning and gross motor skills. They still don't know yet."

Nash, who was a friend of Herold's for more than 30 years, reportedly has no medical insurance. Her family has created a Web page to solicit donations for her medical care.


Newman agrees with his opposing counsel on one point -- that this is an uncharted realm for state case law: "There is no Connecticut case that addresses strict liability for a wild animal injuring someone," Newman conceded.

However, Newman said, the legislature has provided a statutory remedy in the case of dogs. "[The] dog bite statute in Connecticut is a strict liability standard. You don't have to prove any prior vicious conduct by a dog," he noted.

But Girardi, the defense lawyer, insists that strict liability does not apply, and that Travis exhibited no warning signs that would make Herold negligent for keeping the 200-pound animal in her home. Chimpanzees are considered to be more manageable before they reach puberty, at about age six. Without strict liability or negligence, Girardi said, the case is nothing more than a tragic accident.

A hearing is scheduled for April 13 to decide whether attachments on Herold's home and commercial properties should become permanent. The estate of Herold's late husband has not yet been inventoried, nearly five years after his death, but it's worth an estimated $2.5 million, Newman said.

When Herold acquired Travis in 1995, the state Department of Environmental Protection did not require a permit for keeping wild animals, and it had allowed Herold to continue keeping him without one. Some legal experts have previously speculated that the state could become a defendant in the lawsuit.

But Charles Willinger, one of Newman's partners, said the 15-lawyer firm is still studying whether to add additional defendants. The Willinger firm is co-counsel on the case with the Long Island firm of Feldman, Kramer & Monaco, in Hauppauge, N.Y."


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