What Happens if an Emotional Support Dog Bites You?

Emotional Support Dog BitesAlmost everywhere you look in Charlotte, you’ll see a dog. It’s a very pet-friendly city, and that means you’re likely to run into folks at stores, bars, or restaurants who have their pups in tow. At least some of these dogs will be deemed “emotional support animals,” or ESAs.

ESAs, according to the American Kennel Club (AKC), are prescribed (like medicine) “by a licensed mental health professional to a person with a disabling mental illness. A therapist, psychologist, or psychiatrist must determine that the presence of the animal is needed for the mental health of the patient.” They are also pets – and that means the rules are no different for an ESA than anyone else’s dog.

Brief overview of North Carolina’s dog bite laws

In North Carolina, there is a “one bite rule,” which typically allows dogs and their owners off the hook for a first bite. However, if it is determined that a dog has attacked or bitten another person before, the dog bite victim is legally allowed to file a lawsuit against the owner of the dog.

Can you sue if an emotional support dog bites you?

Yes, you can sue the owner if their emotional support dog bites you. This is because emotional support dogs are not service dogs, meaning they are not protected under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The owner of the dog is fully responsible for any bites or attacks that happen. Therefore, if you can prove you did not provoke the dog, the owner can potentially be held responsible for your injuries, medical expenses, lost income, and other damages.

You may also be able to sue a property owner/manager if you are bitten by an emotional support dog on their premises. Grocery stores, shopping malls, movie theaters, libraries, restaurants, and other facilities are not legally required to allow owners to bring emotional support dogs inside. Even if the bar or restaurant advertises itself as a welcoming, off-leash environment for pets, property owners still owe their patrons a duty of care. If a dog is aggressive or behaving in a dangerous way, that dog needs to be removed. If it’s not, the property owner may be partially liable.

Note: the same rules apply if an ESA bites your dog at one of these dog-friendly establishments. You cannot sue for pain and suffering, but you can probably sue for the vet bills.

What is the difference between an emotional support dog and a service dog?

According to the National Service Animal Registry, emotional support dogs and service dogs are two terms that are frequently used interchangeably, but they have a few distinct differences:

  • Duties: An emotional support dog and a service dog have very different roles. A service dog is trained to help their owner, who may be disabled or blind, complete or carry out a specific duty. An emotional support dog emotionally supports their owner by giving them companionship. Although a service dog can also emotionally support its owner, it is also trained to accomplish various tasks for its owner that an emotional support dog is not trained to do.
  • Certifications: A service dog goes through rigorous training with a service dog agency. After it has completed its training, the agency will ensure and certify that the dog can successfully perform its required tasks for the disabled individual. An emotional support dog does not necessarily go through any training, meaning any dog can become an emotional support dog.
  • Legal protections: The ADA only applies to service dogs, legally allowing owners to take their service dogs anywhere. However, business owners are not legally required to allow emotional support dogs inside their establishments because an emotional support dog is not legally protected.

Does it matter if the ESA is a retired service animal?

Some service animals, like K-9s and military dogs, do retire. Others may outlive their owners. If such a dog becomes an emotional support animal under a new owner, and that animal bites you, can still sue the owner.

What should I do if I’m bitten by an emotional support animal?

Call 9-1-1 if you are bitten and seriously injured by any dog. Know that seeking medical assistance immediately triggers a notification to Animal Services. Do not feel guilty about this. This notification is important for two specific reasons:

  1. If the dog has bitten someone before, then it is a dangerous dog and needs to be kept away from off-leash, public facilities. Furthermore, if it has a history of biting and was still “prescribed” as an emotional support animal, then it is possible the prescribing doctor may also be liable for your injuries.
  2. You need to know if the dog is up to date on its shots, especially rabies. Rabies is an incurable but preventable viral infection. If you are bitten and are unsure if the dog has been vaccinated, you will need a series of injections. the dog’s test comes back negative, or if there is proof of vaccination, your injections will be stopped.

Once you have sought medical attention, contact our Charlotte dog bite lawyers. We know and understand the difficult aftermath of a dog bite. Our team will do all we can to help you navigate the legal process, also ensuring you have adequate time to heal.

At Price, Petho & Associates, our Charlotte lawyers take dog bite injury cases very seriously. If you want to work with an attorney who will make the process as smooth and stress-free as possible, please call our office or submit our contact form to schedule your free case evaluation today. We have office locations in Charlotte, Rutherfordton, and Rockingham.