A service animal is an animal individually trained or able to provide assistance to a person with a disability, or an animal that assists persons with disabilities by providing emotional support. Under the Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA), many service animals must be admitted with the passenger in the cabin, subject to certain restrictions.
As anyone who regularly flies knows, there has been an increase in animals on flights, many of which the passengers claim to be an emotional support animal. It is up to the airlines to determine whether the animal is a service animal and which animals can be excluded. Airlines tended to be more lenient to avoid discrimination lawsuits. However, some passengers who are injured by support animals are going after the airlines for injuries, as well as the owners.
Dog Bite on Delta Flight
A man in Connecticut is filing a lawsuit against Delta Airlines after he was bitten by a passenger’s dog while seated on the flight. According to the lawsuit, Joe Ganim suffered “serious, severe, painful, and permanent injuries” to his left lower extremity. The complaint indicates the dog was not an emotional support animal and Delta should be held responsible because it failed to safeguard the passenger from harm by allowing the dog on the plane without a crate or muzzle.
After the flight, Ganim said he contacted the airline to provide him with the contact information of the dog’s owner, in order to find out if the dog was properly inoculated. The lawsuit claims Delta refused to provide the contact information, and Ganim had to go through a series of rabies treatments.
Airline Employees Also Vulnerable to Dog Bites
Delta Airlines put into place further restrictions, limiting the number of support animals per passenger and prohibiting “pit bull type dogs.” The airline said the restrictions came after several employees were bitten. In one week, two Delta employees were bitten by a pit bull support animal. While the airline says they transport nearly 250,000 support animals annually, customers have attempted to fly with “comfort turkeys, gliding possums, snakes, spiders, and more.”
A flight attendant with American Airlines had to get stitches after a bite by a passenger’s emotional support dog. According to the Association of Flight Attendants, emotional support animals are negatively affecting air travel for flight attendants and passengers. In a survey of flight attendants, 53% of flight attendants reported disruptions including aggressive or threatening behavior by the animal. Other examples include biting, barking, snapping, and lunging at crewmembers and passengers.
Which Animals Are Allowed?
According to the Department of Transportation (DOT), there are exceptions and limitations to service animal admittance on airlines, generally determined by the airline. Service animals may be excluded if they:
- Are too large or heavy to be accommodated in the cabin;
- Pose a direct threat to the health or safety of others;
- Cause a significant disruption of cabin service;
- Are prohibited from entering a foreign country; or
- Are snakes, reptiles, ferrets, rodents, sugar gliders, or spiders.
Proposed Rules to Restrict Support Animals
The DOT has a number of proposed changes to the laws governing travel by air with service animals. Some of these proposed changes include:
- More narrowly defining a service animal;
- No longer consider an emotional support animal to be a service animal;
- Requiring a psychiatric service animal to have the necessary training and treatment;
- Allow airlines to require forms developed by DOT attesting or certifying to a service animal’s good behavior, good health, and ability to not relieve itself or relieve itself in a sanitary manner;
- Allow airlines to limit a single passenger with a disability to two service animals; and
- Allow airlines to require a service animal to fit within its handler’s foot space on the aircraft.
Bitten by a Service Animal on a Flight?
Even a minor dog bite can lead to injury and serious infection. If you were bitten by a service animal on an airline flight, the law firm of Gilman & Bedigian may be able to help. Our attorneys have years of experience dealing with dog bite injury claims in Philadelphia, DC, and Baltimore. Contact us today for a free consultation.
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