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New Jersey lawyer focusing on special education law and employment law

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Service Animals, Tort Reform, and Layla’s Law

It isn’t enough to know the federal laws that protect the right of persons with disabilities to be accompanied by their service animals. Good attorneys and advocates need to be intimately familiar with state law as well. Often, state law may offer additional protections and benefits than federal law provides. One of the best sources for researching state statutes relating to service animals is the Michigan State College of Law’s Animal Center website.

In last week’s post about calculating the value of service animals (The Legal Value of Service Animals), I explained the difficulties in calculating damages associated with the injury or death of a service animal. When a service animal is injured or killed, there are many legal questions that must be considered. Fortunately, some states have passed laws that help people with disabilities recoup the costs associated with the harm or death of their service animals without the need to resort to expensive litigation.

Layla’s Law in Washington state, for example, was the first state to impose fines and jail time whenever a person (or their dog) injures, disables, kills, or interferes with a service animal. This law also provides that when a service animal is injured, the person responsible for the injury will be required to pay for all expenses associated with the service animal’s training, health care, and replacement. (To read the statute, see this link.) At least one other state, South Carolina, has followed suit.

Layla’s Law is an excellent example of tort reform. Unfortunately, not all states have been as progressive as Washington State or South Carolina. Some states, like New Jersey, have laws that impose only a maximum of $500 fine for interfering with a service animal. Disability rights advocates, animal rights advocates, and those who support tort reform, may want to research whether their state has enacted a law like Layla’s Law. If no such law has been enacted in a particular state, or if a particular state fails to provide as much protection as Washington or South Carolina, advocates may wish to contact their state representative to draft and sponsor similar legislation. This is an area that disability rights advocates, animal rights advocates, and tort reformers can join forces to benefit many different interest groups.

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