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If You Crash into a Cow – Who’s Liable for All the Damage?

Road sign with the silhouette of a cow to illustrate who's liable for all the damage if you crash into a cow.

When it comes to auto accident scenarios, most are easy to explain and pointing the finger at the responsible party is fairly cut and dry. After all, the other driver ran a stop sign, changed lanes without looking, or maybe he was driving under the influence. But, what if your accident scenario defies any simple explanation and you’ve got to inform your auto insurance company you crashed into a cow? Who pays for the damage to your car – and the cow’s injuries if it survives?

Understanding What Happens When You Crash Into a Cow or Other Large Animal

First of all, there’s nothing funny about crashing a two-ton automobile into 1,500 pounds of prime beef. Nothing good ever comes of it – and it happens more often than people think.

Similar to crashing into a deer, because of its sheer weight and mass, livestock can cause extensive damage to your vehicle and result in serious injuries for the driver and passengers alike. However, unlike a run-in with a deer, the cow you hit undoubtedly has an owner. And, here’s where things can get complicated.

Cows are very valuable – which leads to the question – are you on the hook for the loss of the cow? Is the cow’s owner on the hook for the damage to your car? Will your insurance company cover the losses?

The answers depend on a number of different factors, including the laws of the state where the accident occurred and the specifics of your auto insurance policy. Accidents with animals, big and small, are covered under the comprehensive portion of your policy – which generally has to be purchased with collision coverage.

This is optional coverage with a deductible of varying amounts – so, understanding what type of insurance and the amount of coverage you have before you get into an accident of this type is important.

Laws Vary by State and Location

That said, in Texas, a driver is not going to be liable for the value of the cow if the cow was running loose on a highway, but the rules are different for county and private roads. In other states, such as Florida, because of specific fencing requirements, the owner of the cow would be liable for damages if the cow was on any public road. But, even in that case, the driver would not necessarily be off the hook as he would have to prove that the cow’s owner was negligent.

Furthermore, the issue of who owes what to whom can still often come down to state and local laws in regards to:

  • What type of road was it?
  • Was the cow’s owner required to maintain secure fencing?
  • Was the fence properly maintained, but somehow the cow got out?
  • Did the driver intentionally hit the cow? (Sorry, but there’s an exception to the Texas law for drivers who show “willful (sic) intent to strike, kill, injure, or damage the animal.)

Lack of Awareness is the Cause of Many Livestock-Related Accidents

According to Edward Smith, an attorney based in Sacramento, California, with over thirty years of experience handling livestock-related accidents, there’s a simple explanation for these crashes. His firm maintains the website and blames a basic lack of awareness as a common mistake drivers make before leaving the house for a day in the country. Many fail to realize that a number of counties in California and other states are “open range” – which means either no or minimal fencing is required of cattle owners. Smith suggests that, when traveling in those areas, drivers need to exercise additional care, particularly if driving at night.

In the event a cow ambles into your path on a lonesome highway, causing you to hit it or to crash your car – as with any accident – take care of the people riding in your vehicle first. Then call the police and report the accident. If you have a camera or a cellphone, take plenty of pictures of the scene. Local law enforcement may not check on any fencing or breaks in the fence itself – and ranchers can be quick to make necessary repairs after an accident to avoid liability. So your pictures may prove to be your defense if you end up in a legal stalemate.

Be sure to contact your auto insurance company as soon as possible. Provide them with the pictures you took at the scene to help point the finger or liability in the proper direction. In the end, if you find yourself needing a lawyer, your insurer will typically go to bat for you. Just hope they have someone with experience in handling livestock accidents.

Don’t assume this type of accident will never happen to you. If you currently don’t have comprehensive car insurance on your policy, get a free car insurance quote from Freeway Insurance. Call today at (800) 777-5620.

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