Who Is at Fault in a California Collision with Livestock?

January 20, 2021

Living in California, especially in agricultural areas, you’re probably no stranger to trucks carrying livestock around the state. It’s also not unusual to see stray deer, horses and cows wandering around the road. But what happens if you’re involved in an accident with vehicles and/or livestock? Who pays the damages when a cow totals your car in Santa Rosa, CA?

When livestock is wandering in the roads

Generally, states have laws that prevent livestock owners from letting their cows and other animals wander into the roads. Unless you’re in a state that has open range laws, you won’t be liable if you hit a cow, sheep or other unrestrained farm animal. (Open range states require you to pay damages for the injured livestock, as an admonishment to be more cautious.)

The California Food and Agriculture Code Section 16902 requires any owners of livestock to keep them from roaming on highways. On the other hand, Section 16904 states that any livestock on the road does not create a presumption that the owner willfully or negligently permitted their animals to wander about. That means the burden of proof is on the plaintiff to show that the animals were not restrained properly (through fences or other barriers), and it’s the defendant’s fault that the animal caused an accident.

Why is this important?

The idea of cows causing car accidents might sound like something straight out of a cartoon, but the implications are much more serious. For example, most cows weigh at least 1,000 pounds—which means that anyone who hits them will probably sustain serious damage to their vehicle, if not physical injury, too. If the accident was caused by a negligent livestock owner, you’ll want to be able to recover damages.

Make sure to document the accident as much as possible, and find out insurance and ownership information about the nearby farm. You’ll want to take photos of the animal, the damage to your car and your physical injuries as early and often as possible. This will help your attorney and insurance company build a case on your behalf.

What if it’s a wild animal?

Of course, cows, sheep, goats and horses aren’t the only animals that roam around California roads. Many people, especially in rural or mountain areas, have either hit or come close to hitting deer.

Since deer and other wild animals typically are not owned or controlled by anyone, you can’t exactly sue the animal for the damage to your car. However, it’s still worth it to file a police report. Your insurance may not cover the damage unless you have comprehensive coverage.

Collisions with livestock might sound funny, but the consequences can be devastating. If you’re involved in a livestock accident, make sure to file a police report and call an attorney right away. The Law Offices of Max G. Arnold, Inc. can help you litigate your personal injury case—call us today to find out who will be at fault in car accidents with livestock in Santa Rosa, CA.

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