Do You Have a Right to Bring Your Service Animal Into a Business?
There is a big debate about service animals. On the one side there are people who insist that they are vital, and legal, and that having the animal assists them with a disability. On the other side are businesses that see the right to a service animal as being abused. Regardless of which side you’re on, it can help for you to understand just what a service animal is, and what the rights of a business are when it comes to service animals.
Service Animals and the ADA
As a general rule, the use of service animals is protected by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). So long as someone has a recognized, valid disability, and has a validly prescribed service animal, it is illegal for a business to prevent someone from having or using the animal.
Service animals are not just for those who are blind of deaf. They are used for people who may need emotional support, who have balance disorders, or who may have epilepsy or suffer from seizures. Businesses should never assume that someone’s disability is not one that needs a service animal.
What is a Service Animal?
The problem comes in the difference between an ADA-protected “service animal,” and what has become known as an “emotional support animal” (or any term that generally means “assistance animal”). An assistance animal is not one that is protected under the ADA, and a business can prevent someone who has an animal that is just a “support animal” from entering the business’s property.
How does a business or a service animal owner know the difference between a service animal and, say, an emotional support animal? The former—the one that is legally allowed to enter property—is an animal that has undergone specific training to carry out its duties in assisting the disabled person with his or her disability.
For example, an animal that assists people who have seizures is one that has been specifically trained to identify the signs of a seizure, and trained to assist someone having a seizure. However, an animal that someone has with them because the animal “makes them feel better,” is not a valid service animal. That isn’t to say the animal is not providing some sort of assistance, and the person using the animal may, in fact, have a disability. But the law does not require businesses to allow animals on property, unless the animal has undergone the requisite training.
What Businesses Can and Cannot Do
Businesses must be very careful, because it is illegal to ask someone what their disability is. A business can only ask whether the animal is a service animal, and what service it performs for the person. Businesses also cannot charge extra or differently for people using valid service animals, nor can the business exclude valid service animals under a “no pets” policy.
Businesses can exclude any animal—even service animals—that present a danger to the public, such as animals that are viscous.
We can help your business if it is sued, or help you defend your business against shareholders or others who sue your business. Let our West Palm Beach commercial litigation lawyers at Pike & Lustig, LLP, help you. Call us at 561-291-8298 to get a consultation.