ATLANTA - An Alabama man will likely have permanent scarring after being bitten in the face by an emotional support dog, according to his attorneys.
Marlin Jackson's lawyers said he is still recovering and not ready to talk, but they wanted to outline what happened during the June 4 attack, which happened aboard a Delta flight at Atlanta's Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport.
"Delta put him in a seat, next to a large dangerous animal. They did that without checking if the dog was trained, without checking if the dog was restrained," said attorney Ross Massey.
According to his legal team, Jackson, who was traveling from Atlanta to San Diego, approached his window seat and found passenger Ronald Kevin Mundy, Jr. sitting it the middle seat with his dog in his lap. Witnesses reported seeing the approximately 50-pound dog growl at Jackson not long after taking his seat.
The dog continued acting in a "strange manner," according to Jackson's lawyers, and then the growling increased. The dog then lunged for Jackson's face and starting biting him, lawyers said.
Mundy pulled the dog off Jackson, but the dog broke free from his owner and attacked Jackson again, according to his lawyers, so severely it caused punctures through his lip and gum.
"The dog viciously mauled Marlin for thirty seconds and repeatedly broke away when people tried to pull it back. There was so much blood on the plane that they had to change out three seats before they could put the plane back in use," said Massey.
Jackson's attorneys said he was severely injured and had to receive 28 stitches. Lawyers also released photos Thursday showing the gash on Jackson's face.
Delta issued the following statement last week regarding the incident:
"Prior to pushback of flight 1430, ATL-SAN, a passenger sustained a bite from another passenger's emotional support dog. The customer who was bitten was removed from the flight to receive medical attention. Local law enforcement cleared the dog, and the dog and its owner were re-accomodated on a later flight; the dog will fly in a kennel."
"We understand and respect the importance of emotional support and service animals, especially for our nation's veterans. We are also concerned with Delta Air Lines' compliance with their policies to ensure the safety of all passengers," said attorney J. Ross Massey. "It is troubling that an airline would allow a dog of such substantial size to ride in a passenger's lap without a muzzle. Especially considering the dog and its owner were assigned a middle seat despite Delta Air Lines' policies that call for the re-accommodation of larger animals."
Massey said the dog, according to Delta's own policy, should have been seated on the floor, not in his owners lap. He also said Delta needs to do more to verify these animals are trained.
"It's totally different than going to Piedmont Park with your dog, interacting with people than coming on a crowded plane where things are already anxious, then being in someone's lap where people are going to step over you. We've got to do what we should have done already and say this is a problem and needs to be addressed," said Massey.
One passenger said that the dog's owner was described by the flight crew as a "combat veteran" and that the man was cradling the dog in his arms in the gate area and that the crew saw him weeping, repeatedly saying, "I know they're going to put him down."