Safety and OSHA News

Chimp attack sets stage for novel comp case

Most companies have all the work-related hazards they need, thank you. They see no need to introduce additional hazards not normally associated with whatever work is involved. But one company’s unusual gimmick has set the stage for what promises to be an interesting workers’ comp decision.

A tow-truck operator in Connecticut is dealing with a bizarre twist on workplace violence. Her pet chimpanzee went nuts on an employee, ripping off her hands, nose, lips and eyelids, according to an Associated Press story. Eight months later, the employee remains hospitalized.

And her family wants to sue the chimp’s owner for $50 million.

But the owner is claiming that workers’ comp should be the exclusive remedy, insisting that the chimp was an integral part of the business. The proof? His picture was on the wrecker and he regularly made promotional appearances.

Further, the house where the attack happened is a business office. And the employee’s duties included cleaning the chimp’s play area and picking up his supplies, says the company’s lawyer.

If the courts agree, the employee will have her medical bills paid, and will get some sort of wage replacement, but zilch for pain and suffering.

It’s an interesting strategy for the employer, and one that creates a quandary for the victim, the story points out. She has only one year to file a comp claim. If she chooses not to, and the lawsuit is eventually tossed, she could be left with nothing.

Is the employer unfairly trying to exploit the system? Or is the strategy simply a fair response to existing laws?  Let us know in the comments box below.

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  1. It’s a tragedy. No question about it. But, $50 million is ridiculous. The only message that sends is that we need tort reform badly.

  2. This is the reason we definitely don’t need tort reform. $50 million doesn’t begin to touch what this person will suffer for the rest of her life.

  3. That is why there is Workers Compensation, to limit company liability.

    I agree with the employer on this one. If this employee had been hit by a falling sign, flying debris from a saw, or slipped on a wet floor at work, it would be no question. Absent gross negligence in the caring for the chimp or leading to the attack, it should be covered by Worker’s Compensation. I imagine there have been cases where companies have guard dogs that have hurt employees and they were covered by workers compensation. Just because an animal was involved instead of a piece of equipment, doesn’t remove it from the category of a workplace injury.

  4. I remember when this story first made the news. It’s absolutely horrific and I don’t even want to imagine what the victim’s experience was like. No amount of money can truly compensate what she suffered. The employer should have been required to have a similar level of comp insurance to that of zoos and circuses if regular duties include caring for a potentially dangerous animal.

  5. J. Oliveria says:

    1. Chimpanzees are wild animals. A 200 lb. male Chimpanzee is a potentially dangerous animal. People who work with wild animals know they can turn on you at any time. Just ask Siegfried and Roy.

    2. The police also received reports that the chimpanzee had become increasingly “cranky” and hard to handle as he grew older.

    3. An article in the Connecticut Post noted, “The attack occurred in the driveway outside Herold’s (the owner’s) home on Rock Rimmon Road. Police said the chimp became agitated sometime before the attack and the owner gave him tea with Xanax, a prescription drug used to treat panic and anxiety disorders, to calm him.” An autopsy showed the chimpanzee had Xanax in his blood stream.

    4. Prescription drugs which may have a calming or tranquilizing effect on human beings can have the opposite effect on wild animals. Police said the owner gave “conflicting” statements about giving Xanax to the chimp.

    5. If owner gave the animal a powerful psychotropic medication which was not prescribed by a veterinarian, then a jury may well find her actions careless and negligent.

  6. People are stupid to work around them. Plenty of stories of these types of attacks. You couldn’t pay me enough to take the chance of getting my face chewed off. Owner of chimp should be hammered in court. Trying to drug it down to be safer around employees would seem to indicate owner knew of a problem yet exposed workers to the danger anyway. Only justice here would have been if the chimp chewed the owners face off.

  7. Wow!! This is a crazy one. The description of this lady’s injuries sent chills up my spine.
    An employer asking an employee to deal with an exotic animal without professional training is asking too much of an employee. If the employee did not have the correct training, I can see where that might be an issue.
    I don’t know the law in this case, but people and/or businesses should be held accountable for the damages and injuries caused by the exotic animals they choose to keep.
    There won’t be enough comp or settlement money to cover the injuries and mental trauma this lady has suffered and will continue to suffer that rest of her life.

  8. I agree with the need for tort reform. However “IF” it can be proved that the employer put the employee in Harms way without the proper training, Precautions, and PPE then the employer is neglegent and should face whatever punishment the courts deem appropriate.

  9. I understand the company’s point of view that this would be work comp. However, I think some of the details are missing. This animal is a very dangerous animal and recent legislation has been enacted to put restrictions on owners and who can own them all because of horrendous attacks. The employee responsible for cleaning up after the chimp should also have specialized training for handling the animal. However, the company also has an obligation to ensure the animal is properly restrained such as in a cage or a separate room that is all his own. Allowing the animal to roam free in the office would be creating an unsafe environment willfully.

  10. I would like to add to my earlier comments because I read the full story. The “office” was part of the employer’s home. The reason the employee was attacked was because the chimp had gotten out of the house, and the employer asked for help trying to coax him back into the house. The employee was attacked as a result. In other words, the chimp was out of control and not inside in the place of business. After reading the story, I would side with the employee. The chimp was being treated as a family pet, was not working at the time of the incident, was out of control, was not inside the “office”, and no one was trained to handle this situation.

  11. Settlement, anyone? I am not sure if this case is worth 50 million, but it’s a little bit beyond Worker’s Comp. I had to read the description of the injuries a few times as I could not fathom it the first time I read it. If negligent, it’s worth something. Also, HRMorning, please always provide us the case link as reference. Thank you.

  12. I am curious if this would be different if the business ran from a home had a pet or guard dog attack an employee. Would it be covered by workers comp?


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