What Is an Emotional Support Animal?
In the last few years, there has been quite a bit of controversy surrounding
the concept of Emotional Support Animals (ESA). An ESA is essentially
a pet – dog, cat, peacock,
alligator, etc. – that serves as a constant companion to people with emotional
and mental disabilities. To legally qualify for an ESA, a candidate needs
to be certified as “emotionally disabled” by a therapist,
psychologist, or another licensed medical professional. Ideally, these
pets assist people who suffer from incapacitating psychological disabilities
that interfere with their daily activities, such as major depressive disorder,
post-traumatic stress disorder, and general anxiety disorder.
After all, who doesn’t benefit from having a fluffy (maybe) and comforting
face nearby? The main problem with Emotional Support Animals is that people
without disabilities are abusing the system. There are multiple ESA websites
that offer “psychological evaluations” to anyone who wants
to pay a small fee to take their pet into stores, restaurants, and airports.
You can even purchase ESA tags and harnesses off amazon.
Another issue is that Emotional Support Animals are
not trained to be service animals. For example, a Psychiatric Service Dog
(PSD) is trained to perform specific tasks, mitigate the side effects
associated with cognitive disabilities, and behave in a manner that ensures
the public’s safety. An ESA may be trained to “sit”
or “stay,” but really only has one job: provide support and
emotional comfort through companionship. Consequently, ESA’s have
been known to display aggressive behaviors, such as growling, barking,
and biting strangers. For this reason, ESAs are not protected by the Americans
with Disabilities Act of 1990. However, they are protected by the Air
Carrier Access Act and can accompany their owners on flights.
ESA on Flights
In the last few years, ESAs have been the source of countless dog bite
lawsuits. In 2017, an Emotional Support Animal (a pit bull) bit a 5-year-old
at the Portland International Airport. The little girl suffered injuries
to her face and eyes that necessitated multiple surgical procedures. Her
mother filed a $1.1 million lawsuit against the ESA owner, Alaska Airlines,
and the municipal agency Port of Portland.
Last May, a man filed a personal injury claim against Delta after a fellow
attacked him on a flight. According to the complaint, the “large dog”
started growling when the plaintiff was securing his seatbelt. Moments
later, the dog lunged and began mauling his face, causing him to bleed
“so profusely that the entire row of seats had to be removed from
There have also been
complaints about ESAs attacking Seeing Eye dogs in restaurants and airports. Sadly,
when working dogs are injured, blind owners lose both their “eyes”
and their companions in an unfamiliar place.
What If an ESA Harms a Flight Attendant?
Many airlines, including American Airlines and United, have reacted to
these attacks by tightening their policies on Emotional Support Animals.
American Airlines, for instance, only allows dogs and cats on their planes.
However, updating flight regulations isn’t enough to protect passengers
and employees from a scared and aggressive animal.
On July 22, 2019, a flight attendant was
attacked by an ESA during an American Airlines Flight. American spokesman Ross
Feinstein released a statement explaining that the dog’s owner “became
ill during the flight, and the flight attendant was reaching into the
seatback pocket to retrieve the air sickness bag for them. The dog apparently
felt threatened and bit the flight attendant on their left hand.”
Have You Been Injured by an Emotional Support Animal?
dog bite attorneys at The Stewart Law Firm, PLLC if you’ve been attacked by a dangerous
ESA. Our legal team has a comprehensive understanding of the protocols,
regulations, and contingencies commonly associated with dog bite cases.
With our assistance, you can recover compensation that covers your medical
expenses, lost wages, and more.
Explore your legal options today.
Contact The Stewart Law Firm, PLLC at (512) 271-5112 if you’re ready to file a claim.