This month we covered the story of a girl and a woman who were attacked by two pit bulls in Bonham, Texas. The owner of the dogs, John Hardy Taylor, was initially charged with a third-degree felony for attack by dog. This felony charge, which could involve jail time, was made possible by a Texas dog bite law called Lillian’s law.
On November 26, 2006, 76-year-old Lillian Stiles was mauled to death by dogs in her front yard. According to police, Stiles was riding a lawnmower when six dogs attacked her. Investigators discovered that the dogs had gotten loose from their yard a few houses away. Jose Hernandez, the dogs’ owner, went to court for criminally negligent homicide but was found not guilty.
In the years after the ruling, Stiles’ daughter, Marilyn Shoemaker, and father, Jack Stiles, fought for tougher dog bite laws in Texas. On September 1, 2007, Lillian’s Law was passed with the help of Representative Dan Gattis. Lillian’s law states that those whose unsecured animals seriously injured someone off of their property could face felony charges and more jail time. To be persecuted under Lillian’s law, the aggressive dog owner must be found criminally negligent.
Many people have taken issue with the Texas dog bite Lillian’s Law – most recently, the judge in the Taylor dog attack case called the law vague and unconstitutional. Others think that the law does nothing to protect the victims although it is harsher to dog owners, as those attacked by dogs still do not receive coverage for their medical bills or other damages. Still others say that the fact that the owner must be aware of a threat of serious injury or death is not easy to establish in court in the vast majority of dog bite cases.