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Assets Frozen in $50 Million Lawsuit

January 2010, Stamford Connecticut: Defendant’s assets frozen after $50 million lawsuit filed in Stamford CT. Additional $150 million sought from state.

The family of Charla Nash of Stamford Connecticut is suing her friend of 15 years; Sandra Herold for $50 million after Herold’s pet chimp severely injured her. Ms. Nash, age 55 has suffered life threatening injuries and is disabled permanently. The chimp was 15 years old, highly trained, and a former paid commercial actor for Coca Cola, Old Navy, among other advertisers. The court has approved freezing Ms. Herold’s properties valued at 10 million dollars pending the outcome of the trial. The suit asks for $50 million which Ms. Herold claims not to have. Ms. Herold is a part owner of a business, her home, and several land properties in Fairfield County. This single event can render Ms. Herold (a widow) into a pauper with a jury award of even a fraction of the claimed damages. The plaintiff's attorney also proceeded to file a $150 million claim against the State of Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection for "failing to foresee the risk and remove the chimp from his owner". Who could have predicted this disastrous event?

While this bizarre event caused much discussion in the world press since millions of people keep household pets capable of inflicting injury to humans, this tragedy has a liability lesson to all holders of significant assets. Our cars, employees, children, commercial properties, boats, businesses, and most other assets can on occasion be blamed for damages allegedly suffered by others. Most people could not get insurance sufficient to cover such liabilities. Many risks are in fact, uninsurable. Divorce, business co-owner disputes, and family disputes are among the common events of uninsurable major liability risks.

If we are perceived to be affluent, we can be held financially responsible for damage claims we did not participate in, or even know about. The expanded theory of legal liability has been stretched and manipulated by creative litigators who seek to attach the assets of anyone associated even in a small way with the event that caused a loss. An example of this counterintuitive theory is illustrated by the case where a car thief successfully sued the owner of an old car that he had stolen and crashed. The thief argued that the owner should not have left a vehicle with poorly operating brakes parked where someone may steal it and become injured! The jury accepted the argument to everyone’s surprise. The car owner had to pay the court expenses, medical fees and other damages to the thief that was arrested for grand larceny.

If Ms. Herold (Chimpanzee owner) had no significant attachable assets, would there have been a suit at all? Likely the plaintiff’s attorney would have recommended that a claim be made against the homeowner insurance policy for the maximum coverage afforded by that policy. There would be no financial incentive to pursue expensive litigation, no large legal fee for the litigator to earn.
There are in fact effective asset insulation tools that remove the financial incentive from litigation and thereby deter most civil liability litigation. There are legal entities that have attachment restrictions inherent in their foundation by the legislation that created them.

Well drafted and deployed programs do not significantly impair the asset owner’s ability to enjoy and operate the major asset. Programs that utilize such entitization techniques also have an additional benefit of estate and gift tax valuation discounts.

For further information please visit, or contact your asset insulation attorney.

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About the Author

M. Ray Chodos, Wealth Preservation Group LLC
Aiken Road
Greenwich, CT 06831
203-539 1516

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