A sixty-year-old Missouri man perished after striking a dead cow lying in the road. Missouri Troopers say the man was ejected from his vehicle after swerving off the road.
In rural areas, farm animals can occasionally stray from the owner’s land. Does that mean that the owner of the cow in the incident above bears the ultimate responsibility for the man’s death?
Yes, the owner is ultimately the person responsible for any resulting personal injury—or even wrongful death—occurring from stray livestock. The problem, however, is locating the owner and proving ownership. In addition, some states (like Texas) have animal right-of-way laws. Proving whether the stray animal was struck first or the animal caused a collision can also create a hurdle to recovering in a personal injury claim.
The biggest problem to recovering damages resulting from stray livestock may be the Alabama law itself. The state has a high threshold for plaintiffs to meet. Alabama Code section 3-5-3 says that unless a plaintiff can show that the stray livestock’s owner “knowingly or willingly put or placed (the livestock) upon such highway, road or street,” the owner may not be held liable for resulting damages. In other words, according to its strictest interpretations, even if the animal lying in the middle of the street has a recognizable brand, the plaintiff must still prove the animal’s intentional placement in the road. Modern courts have applied the statute more liberally.
The language may seem archaic, but it is still considered current law. Each case presents different facts, so if you have been injured in an accident with stray livestock, speak with a personal injury attorney for more information.