Couple sued over bite by monkey

Pasadena woman says owners were negligent, seeks $25,000

May 05, 1999|By TaNoah Morgan | TaNoah Morgan,SUN STAFF

A Pasadena woman who was bitten by a monkey outside her barbershop is suing the Glen Burnie couple who own it for $25,000.

Sherry Dinatale is asking a district judge to order Steven and Kimberly Ritterspach to reimburse her for her medical bills, time missed at work, and pain and suffering.

Lee Caplan, Dinatale's lawyer, said Steven Ritterspach was violating a county order in November when he took the monkey outside and it bit Dinatale. He also was negligent because he did not properly restrain the animal, Caplan said.

FOR THE RECORD - An article in some editions of The Sun yesterday about a Pasadena woman who is suing a Glen Burnie couple because its monkey attacked her incorrectly characterized the woman's injury. The monkey scratched her.
The Sun regrets the errors.

"If you have no idea the animal has a dangerous propensity, no problem, but in this case, the owner obviously knew it had attacked," Caplan said. "After it attacks people on several occasions, you're on notice."

The Ritterspachs, who cared for their 2-year-old macaque monkey, Jamie, as they would have a child, said Dinatale is taking advantage of the recent publicity about the monkey. Jamie was featured in news articles and television reports because the Ritter- spachs have sued the county claiming that it wrongfully took custody of the monkey after he bit three people in a barroom brawl in April.

Jamie is being held at Frisky's Wildlife and Primate Sanctuary in Howard County. An Anne Arundel district judge is to decide next week whether to permit the return of the monkey to the couple or to order that he spend the rest of his life in the sanctuary.

Since they bought Jamie in 1997, the Ritterspachs have been fined $850 for violating orders from Animal Control officials to keep the monkey away from the public. Jamie bit an 8-year-old girl when he was 3 months old, a family friend in September, Dinatale in November and three others in the barroom brawl.

The Ritterspachs have said they intend to fight the fines in court, but they missed their first court date Monday.

"If all this was not drug out, this woman wouldn't be suing," said Steven Ritterspach, who added that he warned the woman the animal was unpredictable, especially around women. "The scratch was so minimal at the time, even to her it was no big deal. What could have happened to this scratch that never drew blood?"

Monkeys can pass along hepatitis and herpes B, which can be fatal, through saliva, feces or a scratch or bite that breaks the skin, said Jay Mapp, a senior primate keeper at the Baltimore Zoo.

Dinatale said she has not experienced symptoms of either disease but that she wants to hold the Ritterspachs accountable.

"A small child probably would have got it good in the face," Dinatale said of the scratch on her right hand. "This man never once said don't come near me. He didn't say it could bite you. They shouldn't have it if they're not going to abide by the laws."

Dinatale was bitten Nov. 21 after she left her barbershop. An Animal Control report said the attack was "unprovoked."

Dinatale said she did not take the scratch seriously that day but went the next day to the hospital and later to her physician and an infectious disease specialist for blood tests. She missed work for a few days because of the injury. Dinatale is a barber and is right-handed.

A preliminary hearing has been set for June 22.

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