FREDRICKSBURG, Texas (KXAN) — A homeowner in Gillespie County is trying to overturn a ruling from the San Antonio Court of Appeals that made him responsible for a guest being bitten by a poisonous spider.
Homer Hillis, who owns a bed and breakfast in Fredericksburg, is taking the case to the Texas Supreme Court. He argues that the ruling made overturned a legal doctrine, ferae naturae, which does not require landowners to inform guests of property conditions, like the presence of poisonous spiders.
Hillis’ attorney told KXAN its policy is not to comment on pending litigation.
In a previous lawsuit filed in Gillespie County district court, Henry McCall alleged that he was bitten by a poisonous spider while staying on Hillis’ property, and Hillis was responsible for the incident. McCall’s attorney Cory Smith told KXAN the law is meant to apply to landowners who can’t reasonably be expected to eradicate pests on vast tracts of land, and that it doesn’t apply to pests indoors.
“If he was outside [when he was bit], yeah, there would be no case,” Smith said.
Smith initially represented McCall during trial, McCall represented himself during the appeal, and Smith returned to help with the Supreme Court case.
“It’s amazing the smallest thing can have the greatest impact on our lives – a little spider,” McCall said in a statement to KXAN.
McCall lived in a cabin also owned by Hillis that was on the same property as the bed and breakfast. While living on the property, McCall occasionally performed simple jobs at the bed and breakfast. One day McCall was preparing the bed and breakfast for a renter and was bitten by a brown recluse spider after sticking his hand behind a sink.
McCall needed surgery on his arm as a result of the bite, but it later led to an infection that spread to his heart. McCall was put in the heart hospital for 75 days and underwent five surgeries.
“I’m a very grateful person that I’m alive,” McCall said. “But I think there’s a lot of facilities, a lot of B&Bs, a lot of hotels that have very little pesticide or insecticide precautions or maintenance.”
Hillis claimed that he made McCall aware that there were spiders on the property and tried to have them exterminated. McCall said that he did not realize that there was a spider problem and casts doubt that Hillis really tried to exterminate them.
After McCall filed suit, Hillis filed a motion for summary judgment which was granted back in March of 2017. McCall then appealed, and the San Antonio Court of Appeals reversed the summary judgment and remanded the case.
Hillis claims that by remanding the case, the San Antonio Court of Appeals erroneously applied ferae naturae, in creating a liability for landowners for the risks posed by wild animals if those animals have entered an “artificial structure.” Hillis also claims that if the McCall decision is left standing it will have wide-ranging and detrimental effects on everyone in Texas who operate a hunting lodge, fishing cabin, retreat center, or any of the many “artificial structures” erected in rural areas.
The question the Texas Supreme Court will have to answer is whether Hillis owed a duty to McCall to protect him from a spider bite by warning about poisonous spiders on the property.
McCall said that there is very little regulation of property owners in the State of Texas and wants the legislature to change that.
“You’re at the mercy of a property owner to what you might encounter in the State of Texas,” McCall said. “Hopefully no one will have to go through what I had to go through.”
KXAN reached out to Homer Hillis for a statement and will update this article when he responds.