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Wellborn Paluch, LLP Blog

Friday, June 30, 2017

Bitten By an Emotional Support Dog? Know Your Rights

It seems that more and more people are using therapy dogs these days. For some, having a highly trained dog to assist them in navigating the world allows them to live more independently. Others, who may also benefit from having a furry companion around, choose to self-identify the family pet as a therapy dog. This is where significant problems can arise. Just last month, a Delta Airlines passenger was bitten in the face by an emotional support dog sitting in the seat next to him. These attacks are becoming more common.

Are these animals in a different class when it comes to biting other people? The answer is, quite simply, “no.” If you have been attacked by an emotional support or therapy dog in New York, you should discuss your rights and options with an experienced dog bite lawyer.

Therapy Dogs vs. Emotional Support Dogs

Therapy dogs have been in service for decades to assist people with recognized physical or mental disabilities. They are regulated by the Americans With Disabilities Act and are protected when it comes to appearing with their owners in public spaces otherwise closed to animals.

Emotional support dogs, on the other hand, are not regulated by any laws and are not subjected to the rigorous training that therapy dogs are. While people may indeed benefit from having an emotional support dog, the fact is, using the untrained family pet can cause a lot of problems when they are out in public spaces. As more restaurants and commercial spaces allow these untrained emotional support dogs, more people are being attacked.

Who Is Liable When Emotional Support Dogs Attack?

Approximately 4.5 million dog bite attacks are reported annually throughout the nation. Many of these victims are children or elderly people. Victims suffer from severe physical injuries, including disfigurement, dismemberment and death.  

New York is considered a “mixed” dog bite statute state, where the laws contain a mix of strict liability and the one-bite rule. What does this mean? Well, it means that the owner is always going to be responsible for paying your medical bills and possibly additional damages if the dog is shown to be vicious.

For medical expenses, the owner of a dangerous dog is strictly liable for all the medical and/or veterinary expenses resulting from the attack. A dangerous dog is defined as:

  • one who injured someone without provocation
  • one who behaves in a manner that leads a person to consider the dog an imminent threat.

A dog is declared dangerous by a New York judge after a complaint is filed following an attack. Strict liability means that, even if the owner had taken reasonable precautions to prevent their dog from attacking, they are still liable for all medical expenses of the victim.

Dog bite victims can seek supplementary damages in addition to medical expenses if they can show that the owner knew or should have known the dog had vicious propensities, was negligent, and that negligence contributed to the injury suffered. This does not mean that the dog has bitten someone before.

Those dog bite victims that can prove that a dog has vicious propensities and that the owner failed to take reasonable precaution to prevent harm can receive compensation for things like pain and suffering, loss of consortium if the injury strained an intimate relationship, lost wages while undergoing treatment, property damage, and loss of future earnings.

If you or someone you know has been attacked by an emotional support or therapy dog, get proper medical attention immediately. Afterward, give us a call at 1-844-855-HURT to consult with a New York dog bite injury lawyer about your options.


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