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Was chimp mauling work-related?
In other news this week, who can forget last February's horrific mauling by Travis the chimpanzee that left Charla Nash disfigured and blind? Charla's extensive injuries are still being treated at the Cleveland Clinic, which specializes in reconstructive surgery and is noted for being the hospital that performed the nation's first face transplant. Her sister keeps an online diary of her progress at Friends of Charlie Nash. Charla's family has filed a $50 million lawsuit against the primate's owner for " ...negligence and recklessness for owning "a wild animal with violent propensities, even though she lacked sufficient skill, strength and/or experience to subdue the chimpanzee when necessary."
Yesterday, we learned that the attorney for Sandra Herold, the chimp's owner, asserts that the injuries sustained were work-related and should be treated as a workers compensation claim:
"But Herold's attorney, Robert Golger, says in recent court papers that Nash was working as an employee of Herold's tow truck company, Desire Me Motors, at the time of the attack. He argues that Travis was an integral part of the business, saying his picture was on the wrecker, he appeared at the garage daily and he attended numerous promotional events.If the link to work is successfully established, it is possible workers comp could be determined to be Charla's exclusive remedy. This may force the family's hand because, according to Connecticut law, a workers compensation claim must be filed within one year of the date of injury.
The house where the attack occurred is a business office of the company, Golger said. Nash fed Travis, cleaned his play area and purchased his supplies as an employee, Golger contends."
Workers comp is a no-fault system. While there have been questions raised about whether Herold was negligent in keeping such a dangerous wild animal, employer negligence would not pierce the exclusive remedy shield - just as negligence on the part of an employee would not disqualify an employee from benefits. In most states, an employer's conduct would have to rise to a standard of deliberate intent to injure an employee to pierce exclusivity.
Workers comp covers wage replacement and medical care, but it differs from civil remedies in that there is no compensation for pain and suffering. In the case of severe and egregious injuries, this can seem unfair, but it is part and parcel of the workers compensation pact - if injured on the job, the employee forgoes the right to sue the employer in exchange for a guarantee that the employer will provide medical care and wage replacement in accordance with a state's statutory benefits. We'll have to watch how this plays out in terms of establishing the work connection.