International Association of
Assistance Dog Partners

Court Approves Exclusion of Assistance Dog from Emergency Room

Note: This copyrighted article is intended to give general information about an area of the law. It is not intended as individual legal advice and should not be used for that purpose. Please consult an attorney for specific information about your own situation.

by Ilene Caroom, Esq.

When Robin Pool and her service dog tried to visit her fiancee in a Kansas emergency room, the hospital staff refused to admit the dog. Pool sued the hospital for violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act. She lost.

The hospital did not ban assistance dogs generally, but prohibited them from going into "non-public" areas. The area Pool wanted to enter with her dog was marked with a sign that said "Patients Only Beyond this Point."

Here are some of the important points made by the judge:

  1. The Department of Justice’s ADA regulation "does not create a blanket, absolute right of universal access for all assistance dogs. [It] specifically provides that a public accommodation may impose necessary and legitimate safety requirements."
  2. The hospital was not required to conduct an "individualized assessment" based on an objective, scientific assessment of the risk in order to conclude that admission of a dog is a direct threat to health and safety. Instead, it was enough that the restrictions adopted by the hospital were based upon an assessment of "actual risk and not mere speculation, stereotypes or generalizations."
  3. To prove it had done this, the hospital had experts who said that the exclusion of assistance dogs from the emergency room was necessary for "infection control, cross-exposure, allergic reactions, patient dignity and confidentiality, unpredictable behavior of the patient and the animal, and provisions for space" for medical personnel and equipment. Their experts were medical doctors.
  4. Pool’s experts said that assistance dogs as a group are not infection risks, although they admitted that any one dog could be. A vet said that Pool’s dog was infection free. One reason the court was not persuaded was that none of Pool’s experts was a physician of human medicine.
This case was dismissed on a pretrial motion called a summary judgment. The court determined that even if everything Pool said was true, the hospital did not violate the law.

The name of the case is Pool v. Riverside Health Services, Inc. it was decided on August 25, 1995, and is not yet out in print. If you have access to LEXIS (computerized legal research), you can find it at 1995 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 12724. If you wish to get a copy from the U.S. District court in Kansas, the docket number is No 94-1430-PFK and it was written by Judge Patrick F. Kelly.

(copyright Ilene C. Caroom, 1996)

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