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Who is Responsible When Livestock and Motor Vehicles Collide?

Much of America’s early history is closely associated with agriculture, including animal husbandry. The country’s wealth of resources allows farmers and ranchers not only to feed Americans, but to also supply many countries around the world. But with the urbanization of so many parts of the United States, farm animals and humans now have more unfortunate interactions than occurred in the past.

That dynamic leads us to a surprisingly crucial question – who is responsible when livestock and motor vehicles collide? Below, we’ll take a look at some statistics about livestock accidents and explore the complications that arise when determining fault.

How common are livestock accidents?

Here in Oregon, most people have witnessed farms and livestock from their automobiles at least once or twice. But for many drivers, the idea of crashing into a cow or horse in the roadway sounds a bit far-fetched.

It shouldn’t. Each year, hundreds of crashes involve livestock and wild animals. A quick internet search turns up numerous livestock accidents involving moving vehicles. In August 2019, for example, a man was killed in Medford when his motorcycle crashed into a cow. In October 2018, a semi-truck transporting approximately 10,000 gallons of fuel struck a cow in the middle of the road in Douglas County and crashed. The tragic livestock truck accident killed both the truck driver and the cow.

Many other accidents occur with cattle that do not cause death but do result in serious personal injury. The average beef cow weighs 1,390 pounds, while bulls can weigh more than 2,000 pounds. One can easily imagine that crashing into one of these massive animals at a high rate of speed can cause serious personal injury.

By the same token, injuring or killing an animal in a motor vehicle crash may constitute property damage for which an animal’s owner has the right to recover damages. As you can see, a single livestock accident can present a complex question of liability.

Who is liable for livestock accidents involving moving vehicles?

In Oregon, the answer is, “It depends.” Oregon’s open range laws, livestock districts, and other motor vehicle laws may come into play in any given livestock accident.

First, it depends on where the livestock accident occurs. Like many Western states, Oregon has a history of “open range” laws. Under Oregon open range law, owners generally are not required to keep livestock fenced. In fact, a motorist who strikes livestock in open range territory may actually be liable to the owner.

However, Oregon law also permits the creation of “livestock districts.” Unlike areas governed by Oregon open range laws, livestock districts require owners to keep animals on the owner’s property.

If an owner is required to keep an animal fenced, determining fault in a livestock accident will depend on why the animal was in the road in the first place and/or how it got there. If the owner behaved negligently, thereby allowing the animal to roam into the roadway, the owner can be held responsible for injuries or death arising from the negligence. Examples of negligence could include construction of an inadequate fence, failure to properly maintain a fence, failure to repair a damaged fence, or failure to close a gate or properly latch it.

On the other hand, cows sometimes escape as a result of so-called “acts of God” rather than the owner’s negligence. An example might be a storm that destroys a fence and frightens an animal, causing it to run into the road. In such a case, the recovery rights of both the driver and the livestock owner may be limited.

Call with Questions

Motor accidents involving livestock can raise tricky questions about what rights each party has and who is responsible for property damage or personal injury. In many instances, careful investigation of the facts is required to determine where the animal came from, to whom it belongs, and how it found its way into the road. The experienced personal injury attorneys at Nelson MacNeil Rayfield are familiar with these accidents and would be happy to answer any questions you might have. Give us a call today.