A pet chimpanzee attacked an employee who had been summoned to her boss’ house. The worker sued her employer who countered that workers’ comp should cover this incident. Now, there appears to be a settlement in this case.
A recap of this story we told you about three years ago: When Sandra Herold’s pet chimpanzee escaped her house on Feb. 16, 2009, Herold called an employee, Charla Nash, and asked her to come to the house and help recapture the animal.
Nash arrived to help, and the chimp brutally attacked her, ripping off her hands and mauling her face.
A responding police officer was also attacked by the chimp. The officer shot and killed the animal.
Nash suffers from blindness and loss of both hands due to the attack. She also had to undergo a full face transplant.
Herold died in 2010, unrelated to the chimp attack. Nash sued Herold’s estate seeking $50 million in damages for negligence, strict liability and recklessness.
Herold’s estate claimed workers’ comp should be the exclusive remedy because the chimp was an integral part of Herold’s tow-truck business.
Yep. The chimp’s picture was on a wrecker, he was often seen riding in the truck and he regularly made promotional appearances.
And Herold’s estate says her home was her business office, and Nash’s regular duties included cleaning the chimp’s play area and picking up his supplies.
Settled out of court
It certainly would have been interesting to see how a court ruled in this case. But we’ll never find that out.
The two sides have reached a settlement. Herold’s estate will pay Nash $4 million.
The fact that Herold’s estate settled out of court and agreed to a multi-million dollar payout says one thing: They weren’t convinced they could win in court.
Is there take-home from this case for other businesses? It’d be reasonable to think there isn’t because, let’s face it, not many business owners keep pet chimps in their homes.
But if you remove the chimp part of the story, there are a couple of things for business owners to consider:
- Be careful when asking employees for assistance with something at an owner’s or executive’s home. If the employee is injured and can draw a reasonable link to work, the company might be on the hook for workers’ comp.
- Even if a court found this case to be work-related, Nash could still recover injuries. Why? Because this chimp had a known history of violence. Herold put her employee in a situation with a known, serious hazard. That could trigger an exceptions to the workers’ comp exclusive remedy: negligence on the part of the business.
One more note on this case: It triggered another workers’ comp filing.
Frank Chiafari was the officer who responded to the scene and shot the chimp. The chimp opened a door to his police car and came at him. That’s when Chiafari shot him.
Chiafari also had to deal with the aftermath of the chimp attack on Nash. He said she was so badly mauled that at first he couldn’t tell if the victim was a man or woman.
The officer applied for workers’ comp benefits for post-traumatic stress disorder. He was denied benefits. Connecticut law allows a police officer to receive workers’ comp for PTSD after facing serious injury or deadly force from another person. Chiafari was attacked by an animal, and that’s not covered.
The news wasn’t all bad for Chiafari. His employer, the City of Stamford, agreed to cover his out-of-pocket medical expenses. And the Connecticut state legislature passed a bill to add violent attacks by an animal to the workers’ comp law. The bill was drafted so it wouldn’t include instances involving rabid smaller animals such as raccoons or when an officer has to shoot a deer that’s been badly injured in a car crash.
Back to Nash’s case: If it had gone to trial, do you think she should have received workers’ comp or should she have received the $50 million she sought in a negligence suit? Let us know what you think in the comments below.