HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — The Connecticut woman disfigured in a 2009 chimpanzee attack asked state lawmakers Friday to grant her the ability to sue the state so she can pay her medical bills and "have a chance to live a comfortable life."
"The state knew what was happening and failed to protect me," the woman, Charla Nash, said at a public hearing before being guided back to her seat by her college-age daughter, Briana, who later fed her a banana with a spoon.
Nash's lawyer Charles Willinger contends the state's environmental agency "failed miserably" in its mission to keep the public, especially Nash, safe, by not seizing the 200-pound chimpanzee when it had the chance. That inaction, Willinger argued, led to Nash's life being irreparably harmed.
"Today, Charla's world is basically one of darkness. She sits in a room without eyes, without hands, without her own face. She is obviously, permanently scarred, not only physically, but emotionally and psychologically," he said. "She cannot see Briana, and in my way of thinking, even worse, she can't embrace Briana."
The sight of Nash and her daughter appeared to move some members of the General Assembly's Judiciary Committee, which is considering her request.
"The simple words spoken by Ms. Nash rang loudly, I think for all of us," said Sen. John Kissel, the top-ranking Senate Republican on the committee, who acknowledged he questions whether Nash has legal standing to sue the state. "There doesn't seem to be any bitterness. There doesn't seem to be any grudge. It seems to be a woman trying to do the best she can with the horrific circumstances she endured."
The committee is considering a bill that would overrule a decision last year by State Claims Commissioner J. Paul Vance Jr., who refused Nash's request for permission to sue the state. It's a last-ditch effort by Nash's attorneys to recoup damages from the state, which generally is immune from lawsuits unless allowed by the commissioner. The panel has until April 2 to act on the bill.
Kissel suggested there may be a way for legislators to assign a monetary value to Nash's claim, without her having to go to court, and vote on that proposal this session, which ends May 7.
Nash's lawyers have asked for $150 million, but Willinger said she would be willing to settle for less, possibly half that. He also said Nash would accept a settlement that could be paid out over years, reducing the impact on the state budget.