Have you been hurt in a collision with an animal? As surprising as such an accident is to the motorist involved, sadly such an occurrence is not uncommon. This is especially true in a state like Maryland where much of our land is rural.
This article discusses:
- When Are Collisions with Animals Most Serious?
- What Are The Kinds of Cases That Lead to Settlements?
- Who Will Pay Any Settlement or Verdict for My Injuries from Hitting an Animal?
- Will My Insurance Company Say I'm At-Fault for Hitting an Animal?
- Can Livestock Use Public Highways?
- Is There Liability When a Pet Gets Loose and Causes an Accident?
- Sample of Settlements and Jury Outcomes in These Cases
Wandering farm animals and pets, particularly on country roads, often turn into deadly roadblocks. Maryland also has the third-highest deer population in the country behind Pennsylvania and Western Virginia, making deer another potential hazard for motorists. Maryland ranks 13th in the nation in animal-related accidents with about 1,500 annually.
These collisions with livestock, pets, and wild animals can oftentimes be deadly. Every year in Maryland, animal-vehicle crashes cause at least one fatality and more than 200 injuries. Farm animals and wild animals can be extremely large, weighing hundreds of pounds. Direct impact with these animals can cause serious injuries and death. Sometimes even worse, to avoid direct impact, motorists may stop short or suddenly swerve, which leads to serious accidents with other vehicles. This is called secondary impact. Death and permanent debilitating injuries are often the tragic results of such accidents.
The following are examples of the types of accidents we see involving animals:
- Head-on collision with a large animal while traveling at a high rate of speed
- Swerving to avoid the animal and striking a tree, fence or other rigid roadside structure
- Swerving into another lane to avoid the animal, striking another's vehicle
- Stopping short to allow an animal to cross into the roadway and being rear-ended by another motorist.
Victims in these accidents want to know what can you recover when you are injured in a car accident claim when you collide. The answer is that it depends.
Let's talk first about the type of claim where you cannot get compensation. Car crashes with deer or other wild animals if you are the driver of the vehicle. No person or company negligently released the animal - the deer or whatever the wild animal is. You can't sue the negligent deer, obviously. There is no one else to stand behind a claim.
Passengers are often in better shape but the claim is against the driver. The allegations typically involve speeding or failure to drive prudently in anticipation of all risks, including darting animals. Are these claims viable? It really depends on the case. Keep in mind that the defendant need only be a cause of the crash, not the sole cause.
The type of claims that are viable are where the victim was hurt by an animal that should have been restrained. This is usually a wreck with a pet or commercial livestock. In these cases, there are viable claims against the owner of the animal for their failure to properly restrain the animal. It is their negligence that is at issue in that case.
On the other hand, if the animal is a pet that was not properly restrained or kept on a leash, there is money behind a claim if the owner of the animal had homeowner's insurance, renter's insurance, or some other policy that would cover the loss. People are surprised at how expansive homeowners' policies are in this regard.
Of course, if we are dealing with animals owned by a farmer or other commercial entity, there is usually insurance behind these claims. These are the best types of claims for hitting animals in the roadway and you will see that below in the settlements and verdicts. A cow is rarely on the highway without someone's negligence for that cow's escape.
Whether an insurance company finds you at-fault for an accident where you hit an animal depends on the facts of the case. But in most animal crash cases, the insurance company is not going to find you at-fault for the collision.
This sounds like a silly question, right? But, the historical right to travel with livestock on public highways continues in 2021 under Md. Code Ann. Agric. § 3-502. Maryland law requires, however, that the herd must be attended to by a competent person and that warning lights must be used at night. There is even a law specific to those lights. Agric. § 3-503 mandates that front and rear attendants "shall carry a red lighted lantern from 30 minutes after sunset until sunrise to warn all persons approaching the herd so that proper precaution may be taken with reference to passing the herd."
Maryland law is like to find the pet owner negligent if a dog or cat gets loose and causes a car accident? In Hammond v. Robins, a nearly 40-year-old Carroll County case, is likely to be instructive to a Maryland court. In that case, a dog ran in front of two people on a tandem bicycle. The court sustained a $19,108 just verdict finding the dog's owner responsible, ruling that all the law requires is that "the owner's negligence be the proximate cause of the injury which could reasonably have been anticipated; it is not necessary to have foreseen the particular injury which did happen, or the exact manner in which the injury occurred."
The following are two examples of jury awards for victims of a collision with an animal:
- Maryland: $92,000 Settlement. Plaintiff was on a motorcycle traveling home and a dog ran out in front of him causing him to take his bike down. Plaintiff's leg and ankle were injured. The case was filed in Wicomico County against the owner of the dog who denied responsibility. The claim was covered by the dog owners homeowner's insurance (which was relatively small). (Miller & Zois handled this claim.)
- Maryland: $190,000 Settlement. In this case, the plaintiff was driving his vehicle on his way to work when he noticed a deer running in the field next to the road. He slowed in anticipation of the deer crossing the road, which it did. The defendant, driving behind the plaintiff, also noticed the deer but failed to realize that the plaintiff had come to a stop, badly rear-ending the plaintiff’s vehicle. The plaintiff suffered a head injury which led to permanent brain damage. (John Freese v. Keener Kitchen Co., Cir Ct. Balt. County, (2005).
- California: $2,000,000 Award. This case involved two plaintiffs who were riding in a vehicle when they collided with a large steer, which had escaped from the defendant’s auction yard onto a public roadway. The plaintiffs argued, and the jury agreed, that the defendant failed to take appropriate measures to restrain the animal within a fence to ensure the safe travel of motorists on the adjacent roadway. The two plaintiffs suffered multiple debilitating injuries including severe brain damage. This large pain and suffering award underscores how serious a collision with an animal can be and the jury award reflects that seriousness. (Feasel v. Shasta Livestock Auction Yard, Unknown Ca. St. Ct, (2000).
- Pennsylvania: $67,000 Settlement. A 9-year-old boy suffered a leg infection after a dog bit him and pulled him off his bike, similar to our law firm's case above. His parents hired a lawyer and sued the dog’s owners for negligence. They argued that the dog’s owners violated Pennsylvania dog laws by harboring a vicious dog and allowing a child to walk the vicious dog. The case settled for $67,000.
- New York: $2,160,000 Settlement. A 42-year-old intellectually disabled woman suffered multiple spinal injuries and a ruptured uterus after being a passenger in a minivan that struck a pickup truck head-on. All of her injuries required multiple surgeries. Just an awful case. Before the impact, her driver swerved the minivan to avoid hitting a deer. This is one of the rare cases where the driver's failure to react to the deer led to a successful lawsuit. The woman, through her sister, sued her driver for failing to maintain a proper lookout, failing to keep her vehicle within her travel lane, and failing to exercise due diligence. She also made a vicarious liability claim against the woman’s employer, who owned the minivan. This case settled for $2,610,000.
- Georgia: $5,000,000 Award. A motorist rear-ended a non-party vehicle that stopped for a deer. Following the rear-end collision, the motorist’s vehicle swerved left, crossed the center line, and struck a woman’s vehicle head-on. The woman suffered multiple herniated discs, a rotator cuff tear, a meniscus tear, and eye damage. She underwent a discectomy, multiple fusion surgeries, repairs to her left rotator cuff, a meniscectomy, and a chondroplasty. The woman sued the tortfeasor for failing to maintain a proper lookout and failing to keep an appropriate distance from the non-party vehicle. A jury awarded the woman $5,000,000.
- Louisiana: $5,451,395 Award. A man was driving his Hummer H3 along an unlit highway in rainy and foggy conditions. He encountered three cows, owned by the Sweet Lake Land & Oil Company, that were in his travel path. His vehicle struck one of the cows, causing him to suffer severe neck and back injuries. He underwent fusion surgery to both his neck and back for treatment. The man sued both Sweet Lake Land and their insurer, Colony Specialty Insurance. He argued that Sweet Lake negligently allowed its cows to escape from its pastures, causing a hazard for motorists on the highway. The man also argued that Sweet Lake failed to give warning of a potential hazard on its property. A jury ruled in favor of the man and awarded him $5,451,395. Wild animal in the roadway cases are really tough, notwithstanding the New York case above. But domestic animals and livestock cases are much better because they are usually on the road because someone was negligent.
- Texas: $8,954,491 Award. A man was a passenger in a pickup truck that struck a cow on a public roadway at night. He suffered a concussion and a frontal lobe clot that caused him to fall into a coma that lasted several weeks. The man also suffered multiple skull fractures, multiple facial fractures, a right arm fracture, a right scapula fracture, multiple rib fractures, and a collapsed lung. He underwent surgery to his right arm, a tracheotomy and a feeding tube, and a stent to his veins. The man sued the farm that owned the cow, alleging that it failed to contain its cows within its pastures that were adjacent to the roadway. He also argued that the farm used single wire electric fences that were too low to sufficiently contain them. A jury awarded the man an $8,954,491 verdict.
If you or someone you care for has been injured in a car wreck caused by an animal in the roadway, contact the attorneys at Miller & Zois right away. We are highly experienced Maryland accident attorneys who have won verdicts and settlements for victims of all types of car accidents. We are here to guide you through the legal process and we will do our very best to secure a positive outcome for you and your family. Call 800-553-8082 or contact us online.Related Articles and Samples