Who is at fault? Animals in the Roadway

Laskin Balma Attorneys at Law in Sacramento California is currently involved in a very interesting case about a collision caused by an animal in the roadway. Most of the time, animals are not controlled by people and no third person can be held responsible if a collision occurs between them and a vehicle. This is especially true with wild animals such as deer. However, when that animal is a cow and is owned and controlled by a rancher, the facts change and the owner can be held liable for damages caused by a livestock animal.

Food and Agricultural Code section 16902 states “A person that owns or controls the possession of any livestock shall not willfully or negligently permit any of the livestock to stray upon, or remain unaccompanied by a person in charge or control of the livestock upon, a public highway, if both sides of the highway are adjoined by property which is separated from the highway by a fence, wall, hedge, sidewalk, curb, lawn, or building.”

This code basically states, if you have fenced your property around a road, then you need to make your livestock can’t get out to harm motorists. In this particular case, the area where the collision occurred has been experiencing car accidents with cows since 1995. There is an opening in the fence where the railroad goes through. The railroad is supposed to maintain cattle guards when they cut across rancher lands, but they were inadequate or malfunctioning. The company that owns the cow has known about this defect for years and has had many complaints but has done nothing to guard against further collisions.

As an owner of a dog you are responsible for the actions of that dog, even if they’ve never attacked someone before, you are liable for a dog bite, this is called strict liability. There is no reason that a cow should be any different. The owners of livestock know that they pose a hazard to vehicles if they get on the road, that is why they are fenced in in the first place. That is also why fences should be regularly inspected and maintained.

This ability to foresee the harm that could come to users of the roadways creates a duty to prevent collisions such as the one my client endured. State Farm reports that there are 1.5 million animal vs. car accidents each year causing over 10,000 injuries. It is fairly simple to keep cattle off of roadways without gates. When the fence breaks, whether it is due to a county road, a driveway, or a railroad, the only thing necessary to keep motorists safe is a working cattle guard. There are many kinds of cattle guards and the one installed at the site of our client’s collision is definitely old and inadequate.

There is no excuse for a livestock animal getting loose. Even if an owner is having a problem with a railroad or other entity with a right-of-way there should be a way to figure out how to keep motorists safe, especially if you’ve had twenty years to think of it.Need advice? Feel you have a potential personal injury case? Contact Laskin Balma Attorneys at Law in Sacramento California today.