FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE | March 12, 2001
(San Francisco, CA, March 12, 2001) — The National Center for Lesbian Rights, in partnership with attorneys Michael Cardoza and Robert Lazo, have filed a wrongful death suit in San Francisco Superior Court on behalf of Sharon Smith, partner of Diane Whipple.
California State law entitles only certain categories of people to sue for wrongful death. Those categories include spouses, children, and parents of the deceased, as well as those who be legal heirs if the decedent died intestate. California law currently prohibits gays and lesbians from marrying. Although prior California cases have held that an unmarried heterosexual partner cannot sue for wrongful death, no case has ever considered such a claim on behalf of a surviving lesbian or gay spouse.
"What happened was a tragedy," said attorney Michael Cardoza. "We are attempting to redress that tragedy by requiring California law to respect and acknowledge Sharon and Diane's relationship. Diane's death was caused by a reckless disregard for the obvious danger posed by the dogs that attacked and killed Diane, plain and simple, and those responsible should be held accountable."
By taking this action, Sharon Smith and her attorneys are seeking not only to require dog owners Marjorie Knoller and Robert Noel to accept responsibility for the tragic killing of Diane Whipple, but also to have the state of California acknowledge Smith and Whipple's long standing relationship.
"This case illustrates with heart breaking clarity the unconscionable marginalization and discrimination that lesbian and gay couples endure every day. What we are asking for in this case is the smallest possible measure of justice and equality," said Kate Kendell, Executive Director of the National Center for Lesbian Rights."
Sharon Smith added, "Diane was my life partner. Our relationship meant everything to me. This lawsuit is my way of attempting to make sure that under California law that my relationship and my loss mean something."
In honor of Diane, who was a women's lacrosse coach at St. Mary's College of California, Smith has created a non-profit foundation for women's lacrosse. Any financial award that Smith obtains from the lawsuit will go to support the foundation
The National Center for Lesbian Rights is a national legal organization committed to advancing the civil and human rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people and their families through litigation, public policy advocacy, and public education.