Chimp Owner Asserts Workers' Comp Governs Injury Claim in Attack

An attack by a pet chimpanzee made national news in 2009. The owner of the chimpanzee, known as "Travis the Chimp" was Sandra Herold. After Travis escaped from her home, she called her friend, Charla Nash, for help catching the chimp. But things went horribly wrong.

Ms. Nash was brutally attacked by the chimp. She lost her hands, her sight, much of her face — and nearly her life. After the police got to the scene, Travis was shot and killed.

Plaintiff's Lawsuit

Michael Nash, Charla Nash's twin brother, who was also the temporary conservator of her estate, proceeded in filing a lawsuit against the chimp's owner. He cited physical injuries, emotional and psychological trauma, high medical bills, pain and suffering, loss of income, and other damages resulting from the attack. The plaintiff stated that he believed the judgment should reach at least $50 million to cover all of the expenses and damages resulting from the attack.

A Surprising Defense

In response to the lawsuit, the chimp's owner claimed that the accident was employment-related, and therefore governed by workers' compensation. Generally speaking, awards for workers' compensation are much less than personal injury awards.

Right To Control Test

Establishing whether an employment relationship exists between parties is a critical legal question when determining if workers' compensation will apply. The right to control test is applied in such cases in Connecticut. It looks at whether the alleged employer was in control of the work being done, or whether the alleged worker could use his or her own professional discretion.

These and other questions are considered in determining whether an employer-employee relationship exists:

  • Did the employer carry workers' comp insurance?
  • Were the work tasks a regular part of the business operation?
  • How was the worker paid? In lump-sum amounts or with a regular paycheck?
  • Did the employer issue a W-2 form (for employees) or a Form 1099 (for independent contractors)?
  • How did the employee report income for tax purposes?
  • Were there set working hours?
  • Was there an employment contract?
  • Did the employer have liability insurance?

Attorneys will watch this case with interest, as it will help in answering related legal questions.