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Service Animals and Physician Practices: A look at the ADA and Florida Statute 413.08

By law, service animals should be allowed to go almost everywhere their owner goes. The relevant laws defining the rights of persons with disabilities and their service or assistance animals is rooted in the Americans with Disabilities Act and further defined by state law.

The Americans with Disabilities Act (the ADA) is a federal law that says you have a right to the same service and treatment as someone who does not use a service animal. It also says that if there is a "no animals" rule, that rule usually does not apply to service animals.

The ADA says that service animals are dogs that trained to work or perform tasks for a person with a disability. Service animals are commonly used for help with seeing, hearing, walking, detecting seizures, and performing many other tasks. The ADA does not currently protect support, comfort or therapy animals and owners of animals with these designations must demonstrate that their animal is individually trained to assist with their disability to afford protection as a service animal.

Florida Statute 413.08 broadens the coverage afforded by the ADA and includes protections for puppies and dogs in training and their handlers. Service animals under the ADA or Florida Law do NOT need to be licensed or certified by state or local government. Documentation of a person's disability cannot be required in order to allow access to services or accommodations, including housing. The Florida Statute also provides criminal charges and penalties for harm to service animals and allows for criminal charges against individuals falsely representing pets as service animals.

There are a few key differences between the ADA and Florida Statute 413.08 worth noting:

Americans with Disabilities Act
Civil Act - civil penalties ($)
Does not protect animals in training
Protects individuals with physical and mental disabilities
Complaints directed through DOJ or private attorney

Florida Statute 413.08
Criminal law - criminal penalties
Protects animals in training and trainers
Does not protect mental disabilities
Complaints directed through police, state attorney or private attorney

For a service animal to be legally denied access under the ADA, one of the following three conditions must be met:

1) There must be a direct threat to the health and safety of others. Fears, allergies and possible lawsuits do not suffice.

2) The entity must show that providing a reasonable accommodation poses an undue financial burden or hardship.

3) Providing a reasonable accommodation would fundamentally alter the operation of the entity.

Denials must be grounded in fact and current medical information and not based on personal opinion.

Under Florida Statute 413.08 there is only one valid reason to deny access to an individual with a service animal"

"F.S.A. § 413.08(e) A public accommodation may exclude or remove any animal from the premises, including a service animal, if the animal's behavior poses a direct threat to the health and safety of others. Allergies and fear of animals are not valid reasons for denying access or refusing service to an individual with a service animal. If a service animal is excluded or removed for being a direct threat to others, the public accommodation must provide the individual with a disability the option of continuing access to the public accommodation without having the service animal on the premises."

There is an important distinction between service animal and therapy animals. Protected service animals have been individually trained to mitigate ONE person's disability. They can be guide animals, hearing animals, medical alert animals, mobility animals, seizure alert or response dogs or may assist with autism disorders or Parkinson's disease. The ways service animals assist their humans continues to evolve, but the common thread it their individual training and assistance for ONE individual.

In contrast therapy animals are classified as animals who bring joy and therapy to many, either with or without formalized training. The can be called therapy, emotional support, companion, social or facility animals - buy they are not service animals.

There are penalties for individuals who misrepresent pets as service animals and the ADA and Florida laws allow facilities or individuals to ask certain questions to distinguish a pet or therapy animal from a service animal.

ADA regulations allow individuals to ask whether the service is animal is required because of a disability (but not what the disability is) and what work or task the animal is trained to perform.

Florida Statute 413.08 modifies the questions allowed to include asking whether the individual is a person with a disability or if they are a trainer. You can also ask if the animal has been trained for their disability (i.e. is that a pet?) and inquire what the animal does for them

Question: As a healthcare provider must I allow service animals in my practice, office or facility?

Anyone having an office open to the public must obey the ADA, such as the office of a general physician, cardiologist, chiropractor, dentist, etc. Also included are pharmacies and hospitals, and the county health department.

Note: Health clinics operated or funded by a religious organization are not covered. A health clinic operated at a religious organization, but not run by it, may still be covered.

Another federal law called Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 is very similar to the ADA, but only applies if the healthcare provider is a recipient of federal funds (such as Medicaid or Medicare).

Service animals are not allowed in operating rooms or other highly controlled and sterile environments. This same rule usually applies to humans.

Healthcare providers are legally allowed to exclude service animals that are a direct threat to others or are not under the control of their owner. A patient's allergies or fear of dogs generally does not mean a service animal is a direct threat and should not be allowed in the office.

Sarah Geltz, Esq. is partner in the Kendrick Law Group and together with Jessica Kendrick, Esq. developed their concierge legal division - Concierge At-Law. Their legal background is enhanced by their experience in the healthcare sector n sales, marketing and business strategy. The focus on guiding independent and employed physicians and groups, providing superior legal representation and practical guidance in a proactive manner. You can learn more about the services offered at www.kendricklawgroup.com or by emailing sarah@kendricklawgroup.com.



 
 
 
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