Travis had starred in TV commercials for Old Navy and Coca-Cola when he was younger and made an appearance on “The Maury Povich Show.” The chimpanzee was the constant companion of the widowed Herold and was fed steak, lobster and ice cream. The chimp could eat at the table, drink wine from a stemmed glass, use the toilet, and bathe and dress itself.
Travis had previously bitten another woman’s hand and tried to drag her into a car in 1996, bit a man’s thumb two years later, and escaped from Herold’s home and roamed downtown Stamford for hours in 2003 before being captured, according to Nash’s lawsuit against Herold.
Several months before the attack, a state biologist warned state officials in a memo that the chimpanzee could seriously hurt someone if it felt threatened, saying “it is an accident waiting to happen.”
In October 2008, the biologist warned that the chimpanzee had reached maturity and “is very large and tremendously strong.” The biologist said, “I am concerned that if he feels threatened or if someone enters his territory, he could seriously hurt someone.”
The $4 million settlement with Herold’s estate covers a small fraction of Nash’s medical costs, according to Nash’s lawyers, who have said she requires care and supervision around the clock.
“I hope and pray that the commissioner will give me my day in court,” Nash had told reporters following a hearing last year before Vance. “And I also pray that I hope this never happens to anyone else again. It is not nice.”
Jepsen has acknowledged that the biologist had warned that the chimp was dangerous. But he said state law on the issue was ambiguous and difficult to enforce, and there was no guarantee a court hearing would have led to a seizure order.
Lawmakers review many appeals of claims commissioner decisions each year and uphold most of the commissioner’s rulings, said state Rep. Gerald Fox III, a Stamford Democrat who’s co-chairman of the legislature’s Judiciary Committee. But he said the legislature does overturn the commissioner on occasion.
But even if lawmakers voted to allow Nash to sue, there would be legal problems with that decision, said New Haven lawyer Joel Faxon, who is not involved in Nash’s case. He said the legislature would have to pass a special act pertaining to one person, and that kind of law has been deemed unconstitutional. Many cases rejected by the claims commissioner but later approved by lawmakers have been dismissed by courts because of that issue, he said.