In June 2017, an incident occurred on a Delta Airlines flight that involved elements many people had never heard of before. A military veteran was seated in the middle seat of a three-seat row with his 50-pound emotional support dog when the man who had the window seat ticket tried to take his place. As the window seat customer started to click his seatbelt into place, the emotional support dog attacked the man’s face. The military veteran pulled his dog back, but the dog got free and attacked again.
The window seat customer was immediately taken off the plane for emergency medical treatment at a local hospital. But the authorities cleared the dog and owner of any wrongdoing and, allowed the two to get on another flight with the dog crated in the luggage area. The veteran was seen hugging his dog and worried that the dog may be put down, but is that a legitimate concern in this case?
What Is An Emotional Support Dog?
Anyone who suffers from a mental illness is allowed to have an emotional support animal of some kind. While dogs and cats are the most common types of emotional support animals, any kind of animal would qualify. To be able to claim an animal as an emotional support animal, the owner needs to have documentation from a medical expert explaining their mental illness and how the animal helps their condition. This is necessary because, unlike service dogs who help people with ailments that are easy to see, support animals help people who have conditions that often have no physical traces.
It is important to note that these animals are not considered pets. Apartment complex owners are not allowed to charge pet fees for emotional support animals, and airlines are not allowed to charge extra fees for the animals either. Also, the airlines must allow emotional support animals to ride with their owners unless the animals offer some sort of risk. For example, snakes and spiders are not allowed to ride in airline cabins because of the potential panic they could cause.
What Happens When A Support Animal Attacks?
Since these are not pets, it is assumed that the normal rules regarding pet attacks do not apply. For example, the Delta Airlines customer who was mauled may not initiate a personal injury lawsuit against the emotional support dog owner because the dog is not considered a pet. However, the fact that the dog is not a pet may not absolve the owner of liability.
According to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), while apartment owners cannot charge a pet fee for emotional support animals, they can charge the tenant for any physical damage done to the property by the animal. For example, if a support dog breaks down an interior door in an apartment and takes the frame with it, the apartment complex can charge the owner for the damages. If the owner can be charged for damages in that instance, then it can be assumed that the owner could also be sued by the apartment complex if they refuse to pay for the damage.
Support Animals Are Not Pets
Support animals are not considered pets and do not fall under those pet bite laws, but they are considered the property that the owner is responsible for controlling. In the case of the Delta passenger who was mauled, it is possible that he can sue the support dog owner with a personal injury lawsuit and receive compensation for the dog attack.
More and more people are starting to abuse the rules regarding emotional support animals in an effort to force airlines to allow animals that are actually pets to ride for free. The issue has become so heated that the airlines and the federal government are currently negotiating to find a way to keep airline customers happy and allow people who need their support animals to fly as well. For now, the case of the Delta Airlines’ passenger dog attack is definitely not helping those who support the use of emotional support animals to make a successful argument.