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Airlines Crack Down on Emotional Support Dogs after Rash of Injuries

By Marc A. Johnston, posted in Personal Injury on March 14, 2018

Emotional support dogs can help people recovering from post-traumatic stress disorder, as well as those who suffer from anxiety, depression, and other emotional issues. These dogs are permitted to accompany their owners in stores, restaurants, and even when traveling on planes, but as they have increased in number there have been concerns about the potential for personal injuries. A recent rash of incidents on major airlines has prompted new rules designed to restrict emotional support dogs on flights, protecting passengers and the airline from potential liability.

Incident Involving Portland Flight the Latest Involving Emotional Support Dogs

An incident in February 2018 on a Southwest Airlines flight headed to Portland in which an emotional support dog bit a six-year-old girl on the face is the latest in a series of events that have prompted airlines to make changes in policies. Newsweek reported that the flight was headed out of Phoenix and was just boarding when the girl approached an emotional support dog seated in it’s owners lap. The dog growled and bared its teeth, lashing out at the girl, who fortunately suffered only minor scrapes. The flight was delayed 20 minutes as airline officials and paramedics attended to the incident. The girl was cleared to continue the flight to Portland, while the emotional support dog and the owner were escorted from the plane.

Airlines have grown increasingly concerned about emotional support dogs, who are allowed to bypass regular animal regulations on flights and remain with their owners in the cabin. While owners are required to pay an extra fee along with providing certification for the dog and paperwork from their doctor, it is far more convenient and less expensive than the costs associated with boarding and helps bypass weight and breed restrictions airlines have in place. The Newsweek report quotes United Airlines officials as stating more than 70,000 emotional support dogs flew with their owners last year, more than double the number in previous years.  

Holding Owners and Companies Responsible for Emotional Support Dog Bites and Attacks

In January 2018, CBS News reported that Delta was changing its emotional support dog policy after a string of incidents resulting in passenger injuries. Effective March 1, dog owners will be required to provide additional documentation certifying their pet as a therapy dog, an action other establishments are taking in light of how easy it is to obtain an emotional support certification online with very little regulation. Delta is also requiring passengers to sign a statement affirming their dog is well behaved and assuming liability in the event injuries occur.

If you have been injured as the result of an encounter with an emotional support dog, either on a flight or in a restaurant or other public place, you may be able to hold both the dog owner and the business or property owner responsible for your damages. Contact the Johnston Law Firm at (503) 546-3167 and request a consultation with our Portland personal injury attorney to discuss your case.

Marc Johnston
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