Man Bitten By Emotional Support Animal Sues Airline For Damages

Almost two years to the day after claiming that he was bitten by what has been called an emotional support dog, Marlin Jackson filed a lawsuit against Delta Air Lines and the owner of the dog in question in order to be compensated for damages as a result of the incident — including pain and suffering, lost wages, medical expenses and emotional pain, suffering and mental anguish.

Man Bitten By Emotional Support Animal Sues Airline For Damages

Not long after Jackson settled in his seat in row 31 next to the window aboard the airplane — which operated as Delta Air Lines flight 1430 from Atlanta to San Diego in June of 2017 — the dog which sat on the lap of the passenger next to him started to growl, according to fellow passengers who were witnesses to the incident. The animal was supposedly not provoked by Jackson in any way.

The dog — which has been described as a “chocolate lab pointer mix” by police and estimated to weigh approximately 50 pounds — continued to act strangely as the growling increased prior to lunging at the face of Jackson and attacking him.

Ronald Kevin Mundy, Jr. — who is reportedly a veteran of combat in the United States Marine Corps and was seated in the middle seat next to Jackson — held his dog on his lap. Mundy reportedly pulled the dog off of Jackson; but the dog broke free and attacked Jackson again. Although the attacks reportedly lasted 30 seconds, Jackson suffered from severe lacerations to his face — which included a puncture through the lip and gum — and was profusely bleeding.

Jackson — who is based in Alabama — was so seriously injured as a result of the dog biting him that he had to leave the airplane to receive medical attention. His face and shirt were reportedly covered in blood — including his eyes, cheeks, nose and mouth — as a result of the attack; and Jackson will likely suffer permanent scarring.

Jackson reportedly received at least 28 stitches.

“The animal was so large it encroached into the aisle seat and window seat,” according to this article written by Kelly Yamanouchi for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “The suit alleges Delta was negligent by allowing a passenger on board with a large dog without any verification of training or proper restraints to protect others, and not warning others of the dangers of unsecured animals on its plane so they could protect themselves. It also alleges Delta failed to require a kennel for the dog or failed to verify that the dog as an emotional support animal was trained and met the same requirements as a service animal.”

Furthermore, the lawsuit “also alleges that Mundy ‘knew or in the exercise of reasonable care, should have known that his large animal was foreseeably dangerous, especially when confined to the cramped and anxious quarters of the passenger cabin of an airplane’,” according to the same article, which includes graphic photographs of the injuries sustained by Jackson as a result of the incident.

Increased Restrictions on Emotional Support Animals Imposed by Delta Air Lines

Since the incident occurred, Delta Air Lines has led the way in applying stricter restrictions pertaining to passengers traveling with emotional support animals. Effective as of Tuesday, March 1, 2018, Delta Air Lines requires that all passengers traveling with service dogs, psychiatric service animals or emotional support animals provide documentation of proof of health or vaccinations 48 hours in advance of the departure of a flight. The airline has added enhancements to the stricter requirements, as passengers who are traveling with:

  • A trained service animal are required to submit a signed Veterinary Health Form and/or an immunization record — current within one year of the travel date — for their animal to the Service Animal Support Desk of Delta Air Lines via Delta.com at least 48 hours in advance of travel; and these customers can check-in via Delta.com, the Fly Delta mobile software application program, airport kiosks, or with an airport agent.
  • An emotional support animal or psychiatric service animal are required to submit a signed Veterinary Health Form and/or an immunization record — current within one year of the travel date — an Emotional Support/Psychiatric Service Animal Request form which requires a letter prepared and signed by a doctor or licensed mental health professional, and a signed Confirmation of Animal Training form to Service Animal Support Desk of Delta Air Lines via Delta.com at least 48 hours in advance of travel; and these customers must use the full-service check-in process with an airport agent.
KLM Atlanta to Amsterdam dog

Photograph ©2017 by Brian Cohen.

Effective as of Friday, February 1, 2019, all emotional support animals are banned on any airplanes operated by Delta Air Lines whose flights are greater than eight hours in duration; and passengers are not permitted to originate travel on any flight operated by Delta Air Lines — regardless of the length of the flight — with any service animal or emotional support animal which is younger than four months of age.

Other airlines have followed suit with similar restrictions on emotional support animals.

A Reminder of the Definitions of Service Dogs and Emotional Support Animals

The official definition of a service animal — according to the Disability Rights Section of the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice of the United States pertaining to the Americans with Disabilities Act, or ADA — is as follows:

Service animals are defined as dogs that are individually trained to do work or perform tasks for people with disabilities. Examples of such work or tasks include guiding people who are blind, alerting people who are deaf, pulling a wheelchair, alerting and protecting a person who is having a seizure, reminding a person with mental illness to take prescribed medications, calming a person with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) during an anxiety attack, or performing other duties. Service animals are working animals, not pets. The work or task a dog has been trained to provide must be directly related to the person’s disability. Dogs whose sole function is to provide comfort or emotional support do not qualify as service animals under the ADA.

This definition does not affect or limit the broader definition of “assistance animal” under the Fair Housing Act or the broader definition of “service animal” under the Air Carrier Access Act.

Some State and local laws also define service animal more broadly than the ADA does. Information about such laws can be obtained from the State attorney general’s office.

Additionally, service animals must be harnessed, leashed, or tethered — unless these devices interfere with the intended work of the service animal or the disability of the individual prevents using these devices. In that case, the individual must maintain control of the animal through voice, signal, or other effective controls.

An emotional support animal is a companion animal which provides therapeutic benefit to an individual designated with a disability — such as depression, bipolar disorder, panic attacks or anxiety as only a few of many examples. While only dogs — and, in a separate provision which need not be discussed here, miniature horses — can be officially designated as service animals, emotional support animals can also be cats and other animals as prescribed by a physician or other medical professional if the owner of the animal has a verifiable disability in accordance with federal law of the United States.

In order to prevent discrimination by commercial airlines — based both within and outside of the United States — against passengers on the basis of physical or mental disability, the Air Carrier Access Act was passed by the Congress of the United States in 1986; and here are where complaints may be registered against an airline via the official Internet web site of the Aviation Consumer Protection and Enforcement division of the Department of Transportation of the United States.

Employees of airlines are limited by law to the questions they are permitted to ask owners of animals brought aboard airplanes. Only two questions may be asked by employees of an airline — or of any other company, for that matter pertaining to service animals…

  1. Is the dog a service animal required because of a disability?
  2. What work or task has the dog been trained to perform?
black dog matthew

Photograph ©2013 by Brian Cohen.

…and when the service an animal provides is not obvious, an employee of an airline or other company cannot do the following actions without violating federal law:

  • Ask about the nature of the disability of the person
  • Require medical documentation
  • Require a special identification card or training documentation for the dog; or
  • Ask that the dog demonstrate its ability to perform the work or task

Official Policies of Airlines in the United States

A commercial airline is permitted to require a passenger traveling with an emotional support animal provide written documentation that the animal is an emotional support animal — unlike for a service animal. A fee does not apply to service animals of passengers with disabilities — not even on airlines such as Spirit Airlines and Allegiant Air, which are known for their proliferation of ancillary fees.

Here is a list of airlines with links to their official policies pertaining to animals:

Summary

The outcome of this case should prove to be interesting. Does Jackson have a case against either Delta Air Lines or the owner of the dog in question — and if so, will he be victorious?

If Jackson does succeed in the lawsuit concluding in his favor, I would not be surprised if airlines would be prompted to further restrict the transportation of emotional support animals aboard their airplanes — but because of federal law, they cannot ban them altogether unless they are able to prove that such a ban would be justified.

I have written extensively over the years pertaining to service dogs and emotional support animals in the form of articles posted here at The Gate — including:

All photographs ©2013, ©2017 and ©2018 by Brian Cohen.

2 thoughts on “Man Bitten By Emotional Support Animal Sues Airline For Damages”

  1. Matthew Sample says:

    This is good. Emotional support animals should not be allowed. Should you be unable to travel without an ESA you have several options available to you. You can drive, you can take a boat, or you can take a train with a private cabin. All three are acceptable but not on a plane.

    1. Kent says:

      I think that the FAA should develop and enforce real training standards for limited types of emotional support animals — similar to mandated standards for “service animals”. There are no FAA standards for “comfort animals” (unlike HUD standards for federally-assisted housing). Also, there is a market for fake vests for “comfort animals”. I myself was bitten by a falsely-vested comfort animal at a state government meeting.

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