Every state has dog bite laws, and Alabama is not an exception. If someone is bitten by a dog that runs from its yard or is running around the park off leash, then there is legal precedent on what to do in that situation – but what happens if a service dog or emotional support animal bites you? Do the same laws apply to those dogs as well? Does it matter if the event took place on someone’s property, in a public space, or at a restaurant?
Today, we want to discuss the answers to these questions, as well as define the difference between service dogs, therapy dogs, and emotional support dogs; and tell you what to do if you are ever bitten by one of these dogs, or any dog in general.
What’s the difference between service dogs, therapy dogs, and emotional support dogs?
There are several different types of working dogs that help people with medical conditions. According to Service Dogs Alabama, these types of dogs include:
- Service Dogs: According to the American Disabilities Act (ADA) these dogs are specifically trained to help those people with a medical or psychological disability. Service dogs are trained in public access as well as two or more tasks that specifically assist the person’s disability. They go everywhere with the person with the disability. These dogs are not comfort dogs. In most circumstances, a service dog that bites you has either been trained improperly, or has been provoked in some way.
- Guide Dogs: These are Service Dogs that are specifically trained to assist those who are blind or visually impaired.
- Therapy Dogs: These dogs are trained and certified by Therapy Dog organizations to provide comfort/assistance to people who need help with various activities throughout the day and night. Therapy dogs are used and handled by their owners who often volunteer to visit those who are in nursing homes, hospitals, and hospices who would benefit from the dog’s training.
- Emotional Support Dog: An emotional support dog comforts a person who has a psychological disability. Legally, an ESA (emotional support animal) does not qualify as a Service Dog, but, “according to the Fair Housing Act, is allowed to live with their person in an apartment or home that does not allow pets. ESAs do NOT have Public Access.” Emotional support dogs are not specifically trained to handle the public.
These dogs, save for ESAs. are trained to do many tasks. Service Dogs Alabama (SDA), for example, “trains dogs for PTSD and anxiety disorders, Autism, Balance and Harness Assistance, Fall Alert, Wheelchair Assistance, Seizure Alert, and Diabetic Alert.”
SDA-trained dogs are trained specifically in Public Access, meaning that they should know how to properly and safely behave in public around other people. “The handlers provided services and training in accordance with the American Disabilities Act (ADA), Assistance Dogs International (ADI), Animal Assisted Intervention International (AAI-Int), and Association of Service Dog Providers for Military Veterans.”
What are Alabama’s laws on dog bite liability?
3-1-3 of the Code of Alabama 1975 states that:
If any dog shall, without provocation, bite or injure any person who is at the time at a place where he or she has a legal right to be, the owner of such dog shall be liable in damages to the person so bitten or injured, but such liability shall arise only when the person so bitten or injured is upon property owned or controlled by the owner of such dog at the time such bite or injury occurs or when such person has been immediately prior to such time on such property and has been pursued therefrom by such dog.
What this means is that if you are bitten by someone’s dog on their property or while being pursued, then the owner of the dog is liable for any injury done to you by the dog. However, if the owner of the dog can prove that they had no prior knowledge of the dog’s violent or aggressive tendencies, they can mitigate the damages that they are liable for, according to §3-6-3.
Does Alabama’s dog bite statute cover service dogs?
Yes, it does. It also covers service dogs-in-training. If you are bitten by a service animal of any kind, you have legal rights. Note, too, that while Alabama law says a person with a service dog “has the right to be accompanied by a service animal in all areas of a public accommodation, including a public or private school, that the public or customers are normally permitted to occupy,” it also allows property owners to request that an individual remove his or her dog from the property if that dog is behaving violently or aggressively.
Who can be held liable if I am bitten by a service dog?
If you are bitten by a service dog (or any dog) on someone else’s property, then you can file a premises liability lawsuit against the dog’s owner/handler. Or if you are bitten at, say, a restaurant, you could potentially file a lawsuit against the owners of the restaurant. Liability will be determined by the exact nature of your case, so you want to speak with a Huntsville injury attorney as soon as you can.
If you have been bitten by a dog while on someone else’s property, then you should make sure to have an experienced lawyer on your side. Dog bites can be nasty, and the damage can be permanent, especially if the victim is a child. To make sure you secure the compensation you need to see to it that your wound and any other injuries are treated, schedule a free consultation to discuss your case with Martin & Helms, PC. Call us at 256-539-1990 or fill out our contact form. We also have an office in Decatur, and proudly serve clients in Athens, Madison, and throughout North Alabama.
Choosing the right personal injury attorney is an important step in building a better future. You deserve a lawyer who works one-on-one with you, and who can develop a plan for you to move forward. When you choose Martin & Helms, you get Clay Martin and Tara Helms: experienced, compassionate counselors who put your best interests first. We invite you to read more about us.