Bovines find ways to escape and occasionally end up on the road. The idea of a cow on the loose sounds comical, but unfortunately, it almost never is. Crashing into a cow or other livestock is a real danger in Texas, and as the state with the most cattle, it is not uncommon, either.
Cows and Car Crashes in Texas
In March 2018, a cow on the Eastex Freeway near Tidwell, Texas, was the catalyst for a multiple vehicle car crash. Just before 3 a.m., a wrecker truck was stopped on the freeway to prevent cars from hitting an injured cow. The cow had been hit earlier by another vehicle. Two members of a roadside assistance crew in a pick-up truck slammed into the back of the stopped wrecker on their way to a job. All three people were taken to the hospital via ambulance, and the pick-up passengers suffered serious injuries. The cow also died (ABC 13).
This story is typical for car crashes involving livestock in Texas: a farm animal escapes and wanders onto the road, it’s dark outside and difficult to see, and there either isn’t enough time to stop and the vehicle collides with the animal, or the vehicle swerves to avoid the animal, overturns, and crashes.
In the fall season of September, October, and November, animal collisions are a factor in 24% of all car crashes, according to Farmers Insurance claims.
Strategies for Avoiding Cow Collisions
You can’t prevent livestock from finding a hole in the fence, but you can keep defensive driving tactics at the top of your mind, especially when driving at night or in the early hours of the morning:
- Minimize distractions—you simply can’t see the cow if you are looking at your phone.
- Use the middle lane if you’re on a multilane road. Livestock are more likely to be in your path when you are near the road’s shoulder.
- Call law enforcement if you see a cow that appears to be on its own and unusually close to the road. (Star-Telegram).
Liability after an Accident
You’d think that if a cow causes a car crash, the owner of that cow would be responsible for any damages caused by the animal. However, the law in Texas is not nearly that simple. Texas is what is known as an “open range” state, meaning that ranchers do not have a legal duty to prevent their animals from getting onto the roadway. This doesn’t entirely shield livestock owners from liability, but certain factors must be in place for them to be considered responsible after a crash.
In Texas, there are two main ways to prove that a livestock owner is liable for an accident caused by his cow, both of which rely on location. The first is if the incident occurred in an area of the state that has enacted a stock law. Stock laws are passed by local voters, and essentially change the open range policy to closed range. This means that within a stock law (closed range) area, livestock owners have a duty to prevent their animals from entering the roadway and can be held liable for damages they cause if they do wander onto the road. As of 2011, only 23 Texas counties were entirely open range, indicating that many have chosen to enact stock laws.
The second way that livestock owners can be held responsible if their cow wanders onto the road and causes damage is if the incident occurs on a state or federal highway. Texas law states that livestock owners cannot permit their animals to roam at large on the right-of-way of a highway. Again, this essentially changes the area from open range to closed range.
In both stock law and highway cases, it must still be proved that the livestock owner was negligent and “permitted” the animal to roam in some way. It could be that the owner left a gate open, knew about a hole in fencing and didn’t fix it, or had evidence that livestock had previously escaped from the property and didn’t take action. Livestock simply being on the highway isn’t enough to prove that the owner is liable.
Getting Help after an Accident
Naturally, a livestock owner and his insurance company will be quick to tout that Texas is an open range state after his animal causes you harm. However, there are many circumstances in which that is not the case. Because a crash with a cow can cause serious vehicle damage and bodily harm, you’ll want to research all of those possibilities.
The best way to make sure that the right party is held liable is to work with an experienced personal injury attorney. Even better, work with a Dallas car accident lawyer who has seen it all, like those at Crowe Arnold & Majors, LLP. We have seen how these cases work, and will put in the time and research to ensure that the livestock owner is held liable when appropriate.
If you’ve been involved in a livestock car crash and want to discuss your potential case, give Crowe Arnold & Majors, LLP a call at (214) 231-0544.