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Joe Crumley
Joe Crumley
Attorney • (800) 770-7008

Car Crashes with Cows, Horses, and other Animals

4 comments

A recent news story reminded me of all the people I had helped who had collided with animals in the road.

Nineteen-year-old Joshua Pettey was driving with his mother and girlfriend near Red Wing Sunday when the cow stepped onto a road.

"…[A]ll of sudden the brakes slam and I hear screams, the windshield smashes and boom, we are in a ditch," Danielle David, Pettey’s mother, said of the head on crash with the cow early Sunday evening.

David said the 1,500-pound cow smashed through the windshield, hitting her son, Josh, head on.

The photo (see link) was similar to many I had seen in my 23 years of representing injured people and the families of folks killed in such crashes. Running into (and usually under) a 1,000 to 2,000 pound animal tends to make an instant convertible out of a sedan.

I have seen horse collisions that caused serious head injuries, including permanent blindness of a medical student. I have seen rodeo bulls left behind that killed and maimed three people in one car. I have seen so many cow in the road cases, that I wonder if the farmers of Minnesota understand their responsibilty to keep their animals fenced.

Who is responsible? What can be done? Many of the articles on this blog and our St. Cloud counterpart describe the automobile insurance benefits available to such folks. I wrote a detailed article of Legal Advice after an Automobile Death that covers much of what I advise my clients and other lawyers when the injuries are so severe that people die.

I have handled too many such cases throughout Minnesota. In each of these cases, the owners of the animals or their insurance companies paid settlements to the victims or their loved ones.

Obviously, we hope that people avoid such ‘accidents’ and that animal owners keep them off the road.

4 Comments

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  1. Joe Crumley says:
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    A well-known lawyer friend of mine commented on Facebook:

    These injuries can be catastrophic. good job Joe.

  2. Joe Crumley says:
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    Catastrophic is right!

    Thanks for reading and commenting, Roger.

  3. Calico says:
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    These huge lawsuits are part of the reason why farms go out of business. And then we cry when farms shut down, we can’t take our kids on pony rides, and when the beautiful horse farm is paved over to become another strip mall.

    It’s also a sign of the gross inconsistency with how law is interpreted. In my state: If you hit a horse, even if you’re drunk and never braked, it’s the horse owner’s fault. Even if you have the best fences in the world, but a vandal let the horse out. However, if you hit a dog, you are required to stop and led aid, since this is a “pet” — and the dog’s owner may sue you, even if the dog is running at large. If you hit a cat instead, you can keep going and are never blamed, even if you made no effort to brake. If you hit a deer, you can’t sue anyone, even if hunters chased panicked a herd near a road. If you hit a person, at least you get a trial to determine fault & financial responsibility. Not all collisions with animals are the animal owner’s fault.

    Did you know in some states there is a “fence out” law, instead of a “fence in” law? This means you can put fences up to keep out others grazing herds, but if a farmer needs to drive his herd through town he has ever right to — and the motorist who hits one is at fault.

    Or take for example the driver who hits a horse when someone is riding the horse. In my state, the car is at fault, unless the rider broke traffic laws and rode the horse into cross traffic. But if the same horse, walking along side me down the road, is hit, it’s my problem.

    In the cases where people hit livestock, isn’t the responsibility to look at the conditions before assuming it’s the cattle owner at fault? If that 2,000lb object was a stopped motorcyclist in your lane instead of a lost cow, is it the motorcyclist’s fault for being in your way? Drivers have a due diligence to watch out for things in the road. That shape standing in the pavement up ahead could very well be a child on a bicycle or a farmer on a tractor.

    As a horse owner myself, I am not safe hand-walking my horse down a public road – a road I have ever legal right to use. As someone who does horse rescue work, it’s nice to know why my liability insurance is so high, even though I’ve never had a claim. It’s big city lawyers who are running small businesses, farmers, and individual horse owners right into the poor house.

  4. Joe Crumley says:
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    Calico:

    So much to respond to. First, thanks for reading and commenting, but, with respect, a lot of what you’re writing is repeating tort reform myths. Let’s address them.

    “…lawsuits are part of the reason why farms go out of business.” Maybe. I’d venture to say the farms that are careful with fences and keep their animals well-cared for don’t have the big problems. It’s the other end of the spectrum, the lazy bums who have no respect for the animals, and don’t understand it’s a privilege to work with such majestic animals, animal that helped build this great country. You’ve seen them. You can see it in the farms. Fences and gates tell a lot. And don’t we want drunken or lazy sots that don’t even feed or fence their animals properly out of business?

    “If you hit a horse, even if you’re drunk and never braked, it’s the horse owner’s fault.” Not where I’ve practiced. Most lawyers I know wouldn’t touch such a case. I’ve never seen a drunk driver win a tort case, unless it was against another drunk.

    “ Even if you have the best fences in the world, but a vandal let the horse out.” No, that’s a pretty good defense for most cases. My experience is that most such claims are made by farmers who forgot to close the gate, or had latches the horse could open. And the horse had a reason to go for a walk (hungry, etc.)

    “However, if you hit a dog, you are required to stop and led aid” Not anywhere I’ve practiced.

    You are absolutely correct about some open range Western states and “fence out” laws. But that’s not Minnesota (or your state either I’d guess)
    And I agree also that horses (and pedestrians) have the right to use the roads, but are sorely abused by drivers who think they are a nuisance or don’t belong there.

    “In the cases where people hit livestock, isn’t the responsibility to look at the conditions…” yes, a driver has a duty of lookout and control. But in most states, people don’t expect to have livestock in the road. And in most states, there are laws prohibiting animals running at large for just this reason.

    “If that 2,000lb object was a stopped motorcyclist in your lane… child on a bicycle … farmer on a tractor.” True. But none of them should be stopped in the road for no reason. And Motorcycles, tractors and bikes are supposed to have reflectors and lights at night. And tractors need red reflective slow-moving vehicle triangles about 8 inches wide!

    Again, thanks for commenting, and don’t believe everything you hear on talk radio.