Dog Mauling Victim's Partner to Test Wrongful Death Law
February 20, 2001 9:44 PM   Subscribe

Dog Mauling Victim's Partner to Test Wrongful Death Law California law is clear: Only legal heirs -- surviving spouses, children and parents -- are entitled to sue for wrongful death. Not long-term lesbian partners -- but Susan Smith is going to try. [link spotted on web queeries] "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."
"Any expansion of domestic partner rights is something conservatives in Sacramento, such as the Capitol Resource Institute, will vigorously oppose. 'I sympathize with her loss,' said Karen Holgate, policy director for the institute. 'My second reaction is why would she want to allow herself to be used in her grief for political gains?'"
posted by palegirl (10 comments total)
why would she want to allow herself to be used in her grief for political gains?

Maybe this is why:

'"The fact is they are not married, so she has no legal recourse, plain and simple," Holgate said.'

Same person!

Makes me ill.
posted by wiremommy at 10:23 PM on February 20, 2001

Save the dog. Kill the owners.
posted by Postroad at 4:33 AM on February 21, 2001

The dog's keepers, who are lawyers, say that they are not responsible because the victim "may" have been a steroid user, and the dog attacked because it was reacting to her "steroid-flavored pheremones." I'm not making this up. Shoot the owners, indeed.
posted by Chairman_MaoXian at 6:51 AM on February 21, 2001

From what I've heard so far about the dog's owners, I'm getting nostalgic for the old "angry mob of villagers with torches" model of wrongful death redress.
posted by Optamystic at 8:47 AM on February 21, 2001

It will be interesting to see how this case comes down. Generally, there is no common law right to sue for wrongful death. The right is created by statute, and therefore narrowly limited to only those people listed in the statute.

Kendall's "marital status" quote is, strictly speaking, incorrect. The staute doesn't hinge on "martial status" but on the legal relationship between the plaintiff and the deceased victim - an important, if obscure, reference.

Notably, the statute also excludes siblings from becoming plaintiffs. Since siblings presumably can't marry in California, they too are "shut out" from a legal recovery in this case. Under Kendall's theory, this means either that sibling ought to be allowed to marry or that the courts must re-write the staute to include siblings - a "denied class" under Kendall's theory.

It sounds to me like the plaintiffs here are attempting to elevate sexual orientation to a "protected class" under constitutional equal protection standards, which is unlikely to happen even in California. A far better strategy is to try to get the staute amended - perhaps by referendum.
posted by mikewas at 8:54 AM on February 21, 2001

I've been following this story since last week and I'm all for the mob-law technique. It's pretty obvious these owners just don't care what happened and I'm betting it's due to some hatred they have for gay and lesbian couples. Nothing I can prove, I'll admit, but I get that vibe from them. And to be somewhat stereotypical (my apologies), what are they doing in San Francisco without an open mind?
posted by jdiaz at 10:48 AM on February 21, 2001

I don't think you need to be homophobic to be selfish, entitled, and refuse to take responsibility for your actions.

sf has pretty strong domestic partner laws for the city. from an article detailing sf's soon-to-be provision providing health care benefits for city workers undergoing sex-change procedures:

"Backers of the new transgender benefits say the move is a natural extension of San Francisco's 4-year-old landmark Equal Benefits Ordinance, which requires those doing business with the city to provide their employees with domestic partners the same benefits as their married counterparts.

The city also passed a 1995 law that prohibits discrimination in San Francisco and in city contracting that is based on gender identity."

we'll see how this plays out.

posted by rebeccablood at 11:23 AM on February 21, 2001

I'd read a story in the NY times about this case a few weeks ago. The dogs' original owners are in prison. Their lawyers were looking after the dogs, and they were probably unprepared to deal with them properly. They really shouldn't have taken on these dogs in the first place.

The solution to the rights issue is that gays should be allowed to marry just like everyone else.
posted by Loudmax at 12:06 PM on February 21, 2001

it's weirder than that. apparently the lawyers adopted one of the gang members in prison, and took over care of his dog. the dog is described by breeders as an "irresponsible breed".

likely the lawyers didn't know that, but they *did* have their door open, and in the coverage I've seen since this happened I haven't seen them quoted as saying anything other than "I don't think she has legal grounds for any action."

they really seem pretty reprehensible to me.

posted by rebeccablood at 12:23 PM on February 21, 2001

Actually the most horrifying aspect of this case that I read was the dog had attacked the victim once before this. Certainly if the owners/caretakers weren't aware of the vicious nature of the animals, they learned of it when the woman was bitten.
posted by megnut at 1:51 PM on February 21, 2001

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