What to do When You Hit Livestock in the Road

While having a collision with a farm animal may seem like a freak accident, it is an all too common occurrence, especially in a rural state such as Arkansas. While practicing in Arkansas, I regularly hear people say, “I just hit a cow, what do I do now?”  So if you ever find yourself in this situation, here are a few things to keep in mind.

To begin, Arkansas case law defines livestock as including “horses, mules, cattle, goats, sheep, swine, chickens, ducks, and similar animals and fowl commonly raised or used for farm purposes.” Smith v. R.A. Brooks Trucking Co., 280 Ark. 510, 660 S.W.2d 1 (1983) 

The court has gone on further to delineate liability when an accident with livestock occurs. The court has stated, “It is well established that the owner of livestock is liable when damage results from intentionally or negligently permitting animals to run at large.” Smith v. R.A. Brooks Trucking Co., 280 Ark. 510, 660 S.W.2d 1 (1983). Therefore, if you are ever involved in a collision that results in property or bodily injury with a farm animal, don’t fret, because with little bit of leg work, you should be able to prove the livestock owner is liable for your damages.

To prove that the livestock owner is liable for the damages associated with a collision between their animal, and your car or person, Arkansas case law has set out what the plaintiff–the injured party–needs to show. First, in Oliver v. Jones, 239 Ark., 393 S.W.2d 248, 249, 1965 Ark., the court stated that the burden is on the injured party to show that the owner of the livestock is guilty of negligence in allowing their livestock to be on the highway.  The plaintiff in Oliver v. Jones, was able to do this through testimony of the Sheriff that the property owner had a plethora of complaints about cattle running at large on the highway, a witness testifying that he saw the livestock owner’s cattle on the highway at the point where the collision occurred, and another witness who testified that he too saw the livestock owner’s cattle in the highway the day the collision occurred.

The court went on further to state that mere knowledge of the animals being “at large” isn’t enough. This is due to the fact that livestock animals are generally large creatures that can escape their enclosures, and the courts don’t want to punish farmers for freak accidents occurring, such as cattle running through a fence during a storm. In Miller v. Nix, 315 Ark. 868 S.W.2d 1994 Ark, the court stated, “while the evidence showed that the owner’s fence was in need of repair, no holes were found through which a cow could escape. Further, the driver presented no direct evidence to prove the owner owned the cow that was struck[,]” therefore when you have a collision with a farm animal, you need to immediately start looking for an area where the property owners livestock could have escaped their enclosures, i.e. holes in fences, lack of a chicken coop, open or faulty gate, etc., take pictures, and find evidence of who owns the livestock and the property they escaped from. Once you have done that, you then need to see if any neighbors or witnesses have complained of such and check the sheriff’s log as well for complaints. If you are able to find all of these, or need help doing them it may be time to call an attorney. Call Rainwater, Holt & Sexton, let us do the work and guide you through the entire claim process.

 

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