Emotional Support Animals – Are They Safe?

A pit bull service dogA woman has sued Alaska Airlines for $1.1 million following an incident in December 2017, when her 5-year-old daughter was mauled by a pit bull while in the Portland airport. The dog was in the gate area and uncrated, as its owner, Michelle Brannan, claimed that the dog was an emotional support animal. The lawsuit is seeking to recover over $100,000 in medical bills incurred to treat the girl’s facial lacerations and other injuries, in addition to damages for other losses and pain and suffering. Brannan and the Port of Portland are also named as defendants in the lawsuit.     

A Changing Legal Landscape

Following the incident, Alaska Airlines changed its policy concerning emotional support animals, stating that the change was “based on a number of recent incidents where the inappropriate behavior of emotional support animals has impacted and even injured our employees, other guests and service animals.” Shortly before Alaska Airlines made the change, Delta Airlines announced that it was banning all emotional support animals on long-haul flights.

These changes in policy have been controversial because emotional support animals enjoy certain exemptions under federal and state housing laws. Proponents of emotional support animals believe that they should be given the same status as service animals, while others note incidents such as the one discussed above as reason for tighter restrictions.

The Difference Between Emotional Support Animals and Service Animals

In order to better understand the controversy, it’s important to understand that difference between emotional support animals and service animals. Emotional support animals are companion animals that provide some benefit to a person with mental health issues pursuant to a physician’s recommendation. Emotional support animals can be used to treat depression, anxiety, and other mental or emotional disorders. While they are not considered pets, emotional support animals receive no specific training.

Service animals, on the other hand, are specially trained to do work or perform specific tasks for people with disabilities. Service animals receive extensive training and are certified under the ADA. Once certified as service animals, they can go in public anywhere their owners go. Because of their rigorous training, incidents involving service animals are extremely rare.

How Georgia Law Applies to Emotional Support Animals

Regardless of whether it’s a service animal or an emotional support animal, owners can be held liable when their animals cause injury to others. In order to prevail on a claim, Georgia law requires that you prove the following:

  1. The animal was vicious or dangerous;
  2. The owner was careless in managing the animal or allowing it to go “at liberty;”
  3. You did not provoke the animal.

If you’ve been injured in a dog attack, you should also be aware that Georgia has a two-year statute of limitations starting from the date of the incident. This means that you have two years to file suit or you will lose your rights.

Injured by an Emotional Support Animal? Contact a Georgia Injury Lawyer

Emotional support animals require no training and aren’t always safe around other people in public. If you’ve been attacked by someone’s emotional support animal, the attorneys at Slappy & Sadd can help. We’ve been representing injured people in the Atlanta area since 1992, and we have the experience to help you get the compensation today. If you’d like to speak with one of our attorneys about your case, call us at 888-474-9616 or contact us online in order to schedule a free consultation.

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