Hotels & Service Dogs

We recently received a call from a hotel client that had just received a letter from the US Department of Justice wanting a response to an Alleged Violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act. Our client had a guest at their hotel that had a dog. The desk clerk informed the individual the hotel had a no pets policy.

The guest informed the desk clerk that this was “Service Dog” and that the ADA requires hotels or other public places with a “no pet” policy to allow service dogs with no additional charge. The desk clerk told the guest that the hotel usually charged a sanitation fee to guests with service animals. Even though the desk clerk waived the “sanitation fee” the guest filed a complaint alleging a violation of the “Americans with Disabilities Act”.

Whether or not the allegation/claim will result in monetary damages to the alleged victim, a lot of time and effort will be required to answer the complaint, or worse a resulting lawsuit.

That brings up a very important question. Does the hotelier have insurance protection for this type of allegation or claim? Your standard General Liability provides coverage for only bodily injury and property damage, so there would be no coverage available there. Fortunately this hotelier has Employment Practice Liability Insurance with 3rd party discrimination. So, coverage under his EPL Insurance would respond and provide coverage.

That begs the next question: How do I prevent this from happening? You must have policies and procedures in place addressing ADA issues. In addition to having the policies, you MUST TRAIN AND EDUCATE YOUR STAFF.

There is valuable information at the US Department of Justice Civil Rights Division website www.ada.gov and found out more on the topic.

Under the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA), privately owned businesses that serve the general public are prohibited from Discriminating against individuals with disabilities. ADA requires that such businesses allow people with disabilities to bring their service animals onto business premises in whatever areas customers are generally allowed.

What is a service animal? According to the website, a service animal is any guide dog, signal dog or other animal individually trained to provide assistance to a person with a disability. If they meet this definition, they are considered service animals regardless if they have been licensed or certified with the state or local government.

What am I allowed to ask, if I’m not sure if the person is disabled or what service the animal provides? You can ask two simple questions under the Act: 1) is the service animal required because of a disability and 2) what work or task has the dog been trained to perform? You or your staff cannot ask about the person’s disability, require any sort of documentation or identification or even ask that the animal demonstrate its ability to perform the work or task.

There are only 2 instances that you may ask a person to remove the service animal from your premises. 1) the animal is out of control and the handler does not take effective action to control it or 2) the animal is not housebroken. Control does not mean that the dog must be on a leash. If the individual’s disability prevents using a leash or similar device, then it must be controlled through voice or signal.

As with most regulations dealing with ADA regulations, the service dog issue is often a difficult issue with hoteliers. I want to encourage each of you to go to the website: www.ada.gov and study further.

This is by no means a comprehensive look at the “Service Animal”, issue but hopefully this will alert you to dig a little deeper into the ADA regulations.

This is the 2nd service dog issue our agency has been involved with this year, so take heed. Be prepared and train your staff.

For those of you with EPLI coverage now, all of the EPLI providers have agreements w/Law Firms that usually will provide you with 30 minutes (or more) of legal counsel on any Employment or ADA related issues.

If you need further information, in addition to the ADA website, feel free to check out our RCI website: www.rci-ins.com or give me a call at 800-753-5797.

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