Partner of dog mauling victim to file wrongful death suit

By Advocate.com Editors

Originally published on Advocate.com February 21 2001 1:00 AM ET

The partner of a San Francisco woman who was mauled to death by a 120-pound dog last month plans to file a wrongful death suit against the dog’s owners, challenging the state law banning such suits by domestic partners in the process, the San Francisco Chronicle reports. California state law allows only surviving spouses, children, and parents to bring wrongful death suits. However, Sharon Smith, whose partner, Diane Alexis Whipple, was killed outside her apartment by a Presa Canario dog on January 26, plans to challenge the existing state law. “I want to change some laws so that domestic partners have some recourse in the future,” said Smith. “As gay and lesbian couples, we can’t get married. We can’t file suit. We’re really caught in a catch-22.” Smith plans to file suit against Robert Noel and Marjorie Knoller, the owners of the dog. Noel and Knoller are under criminal investigation by police. The dog was raised through intermediaries for a prison inmate whom Noel and Knoller adopted just after Whipple’s death. Experts say that Smith’s suit is a necessary challenge to the law. “It provides an example of how vulnerable lesbian and gay relationships are, irrespective of how long-term or committed they are,” said Kate Kendell, executive director of the San Francisco–based National Center for Lesbian Rights. “The state can’t have it both ways. You can’t condition a right on marital status, then deny a whole class of people the right of access to be married.” A bill introduced in December by openly lesbian assemblywoman Carole Migden would allow domestic partners to sue for wrongful death. A spokesman for Gov. Gray Davis said that the governor had not had a chance to formulate a position on the measure.