In February 2018, a Southwest Airlines flight from Phoenix to Portland was delayed when a six-year-old girl attempted to pet another passenger’s emotional support dog and was left with a mark on her forehead. She was treated by paramedics and was able to fly, but the dog and its owner were not permitted to remain on the airplane.

The airline asserted that the dog’s teeth only grazed the girl’s skin, but what if she had actually been bitten? Would her parents have had any legal recourse against the owner?

According to New York law, dog owners are liable when their animal bites someone if it has already been deemed dangerous, meaning that it has injured someone in the past. Otherwise, there is a one-bite rule, which states that an owner can only be responsible for damages if the victim can prove that the owner knew or should have known about the dog’s dangerous tendencies.

How does this law apply to support animals?

The law differentiates between a service animal and a support animal. According to the Americans with Disabilities Act, a service animal is specifically trained to assist people with disabilities by performing tasks that the person cannot perform. Examples include guide dogs for the blind, hearing dogs for the deaf, and service dogs who support those with physical or psychiatric disabilities. New York’s Civil Rights Law requires public facilities to accommodate service dogs (other animals are not mentioned).

Support animals are different—while they may provide comfort to an owner with an emotional or psychiatric disability or condition, they are not trained to carry out essential tasks, so they don’t meet the ADA or state definition of a service animal. This means that:

  • The owner is not entitled to bring them into places where animals are normally prohibited.
  • An injured person can sue the owner if they can prove that the dog was a dangerous animal or the owner knew or should have known about its dangerous tendencies.

At present, New York is one of the 19 states that prohibit people from presenting untrained personal pets as service dogs. These laws arose after too many pet owners would go online, purchase a vest with a “service animal” badge, and place it on their animal in order to take it on public transportation, in restaurants, and other places where animals don’t traditionally belong. As the Southwest incident suggests, sometimes this trend yields unfortunate results.

Contact a personal injury attorney

If you or someone you love has been hurt by a dog that is being presented as an emotional support animal, then contact a New York personal injury attorney. Dog bites are traumatizing, especially for children, and your attorney can help you hold the owner liable and receive compensation for your injuries. Jayson Lutzky is a Bronx, NY personal injury lawyer offering free in-person initial consultations. In the event of serious injury, hospital and home consultations may be available. Call 718-514-6619 to set up a consultation with Mr. Lutzky.