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Livestock Accidents in Texas, Who Is Liable?

When a cow causes an accident, who pays for medical expenses?

Loose livestock or estrays are a major concern in many Texas counties - and the problem only seems to be growing with more cars and cattle on the roadways. Nationwide, about 10 percent of all fatal collisions with animals happen in Texas.

Largely underreported, Texas livestock accidents can seriously injure a driver and any passengers in the vehicle. The results can be devastating and have lifelong consequences. Primarily consisting of head-on collisions or side-impact type crashes, injuries from livestock collisions include soft tissue injuries, internal organ damage, traumatic brain injuries, spinal cord injuries, bone fractures, and other severe injuries.

Usually, the livestock's owner is liable for damages caused by their wandering livestock. However, there are significant portions of Texas where livestock owners have no liability for motor vehicle accidents caused by their unfenced animals. When the livestock owner is not liable, crash victims may need to rely on their own insurance policies to help pay for medical bills, lost wages, and other damages.

If you or a loved one has been injured in a livestock accident in Texas, it's important to understand your potential legal options. It's a complex area of law, and you may be entitled to compensation from the livestock owner or another party involved in the accident. An experienced attorney can help you navigate the legal system and find your way forward.

Is Texas an "open range" state?

Range laws determine whether livestock in a specific area must be contained by a fence or otherwise restricted to permitted property. Texas is an "open-range" state by default. This means that livestock owners have no duty to fence in or restrict their animals to specific areas. However, in Texas, there are two large exceptions to this rule:

  • State and federal highways.
  • Local stock laws.

These laws turn parts of open-range Texas into closed-range communities where livestock owners are responsible for keeping their animals contained and are liable for damage caused if they get out.

Most Texas counties have closed-range laws. Open-range regions are typically in rural Texas counties with populations of under 50,000 people, like King County and Tyler County. The largest counties upholding open-range laws include Webb County and Midland County. In some open-range communities, the rule is not applied uniformly countywide. In Carson County, for example, some areas are open range, and some areas are closed range. As a result, a map can help travelers better understand liability in that area.

Texas open-range liability exceptions

For people unfamiliar with Texas livestock liability law, it can be challenging to determine whether the state's two major open-range exceptions apply to a specific accident. To seek compensation from the livestock owner in an accident, usually, one of two open-range exceptions must apply:

  • State and Federal Highway Livestock Liability Law. In Texas, even in open-range communities, it is illegal for a livestock owner to permit specific animals to roam freely and unattended along a state or federal highway. All U.S. and state highways are "closed range" in Texas. It is important to note that the highway law does not apply to farm-to-market roads in open-range communities. Consisting of more than 41,000 miles, farm roads make up more than half of Texas' highway system. The longest one is FM 168, which is nearly 140 miles.
  • Stock Laws. Around two-thirds of Texas counties have passed livestock laws, or stock laws, that changed open-range regions into closed-range regions. In closed-range communities, livestock owners are legally obligated to prevent their animals from venturing into the roadway. When their animals get out and cause an accident, the owner can be held liable for the victim's damages.

Who is at fault in a Texas livestock collision?

Although the laws can get technical and complex, there are generally four types of livestock accident compensation scenarios:

  • Open-range Farm to Market route accident. Livestock owner is not liable. Victim is compensated by their own insurance policies.
  • Open-range federal or state highway accident. Livestock owner is liable. Victim is compensated by the owner's insurance and, if necessary, their own policies.
  • Closed-range accident. Livestock owner or another third party is liable. For example, the victim is compensated by the owner's insurance provider or the insurance providers of another liable entity such as a defective fence manufacturer.
  • Closed-range accident where the livestock owner is liable but uninsured or underinsured. Victim is compensated by the available policies of liable parties, as well as the insurance coverage they have purchased. The victim may consider filing a lawsuit to recover damages not covered by insurance from the livestock owner.

It is important to note that coverage may vary depending on the specific terms and conditions of potentially applicable policies. For example, some policies may also provide coverage for the driver's own vehicle damages, depending on the circumstances of the accident and the policy's coverage limits.

Can I file an insurance claim or lawsuit after a livestock accident?

Usually, yes, though you may have to file with your own insurance provider. Factors that influence compensation include fault and injury severity. In addition, the circumstances of the accident will determine the source and amount of a victim's injury compensation. Here are some sources of compensation that may be available to victims of livestock accidents in Texas:

  • Livestock insurance. Many livestock owners purchase liability insurance to protect themselves in case their animals cause harm or damage to others. This type of insurance is often called "livestock liability insurance" or "farm liability insurance." It can provide coverage for a range of potential liabilities, including injuries or damages caused by collisions with escaped livestock.
  • Victim's insurance. If the injured person purchased applicable insurance, they may file a claim with their own provider to collect compensation. Policies that may pay for damages include Personal Injury Protection (PIP), health care, Medical Payments, uninsured/underinsured motorist, and comprehensive insurance. It is important to review the specific details of your insurance policies to determine the extent of your coverage in the event of a livestock accident.
  • Third-party claim or lawsuit. If the collision is a result of a defectively manufactured fence or car part, the victim may have a strong case for compensation from the manufacturer.
  • Personal injury or wrongful death No state reports more deaths from animal collisions than Texas, with about 200 fatal AVCs per year. When damages exceed policy limits or a loved one is killed in a livestock collision, a lawyer can file a lawsuit in civil court for damages not covered by insurance.

Lawyers who understand the unique circumstances of Texas livestock collisions

Livestock collision liability law is complicated in Texas, where the laws can change from precinct to precinct in some counties. However, an experienced livestock accident lawyer can guide you through the process and help you understand your potential legal options.

If you were injured or a loved one died in a Texas livestock accident, contact Smith & Hassler to schedule a free consultation. A member of our team can listen to the details of what happened, answer your questions, and help you decide what to do next.

Click here to download a printable PDF of this article, "Livestock Accidents in Texas, Who is Liable?"

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