In Missouri, there are over 4,000,000 head of cattle on beef and dairy farms. Many two lane highways wind and twist throughout the state. These highways and roadways are lined with pastures reserved for grazing cattle. The most recent Missouri State Highway Patrol statistics note that over 3,300 car crashes occur per year because of animals in the roadway. Within that number, there are car accidents with cattle. Any farmer can tell you, it is almost impossible to ensure your cattle will be safe and secure in their pastures and some farmers don’t keep their fences up regularly. So what can an injured person do when they have been in a car crash with a cow? Missouri law allows for recovery but only if you have an attorney that knows what to look for.
The Missouri Revised Statute 270.010 states that domestic animals shall be restrained from running at large. For those that do not know, the Missouri Revised Statutes, or RSMo, is the law in Missouri. Chapter 270, section 10 states as follows:
Domestic animals restrained from running at large.
270.010. It shall be unlawful for the owner of any animal or animals of the species of horse, mule, ass, cattle, swine, sheep or goat, in this state, to permit the same to run at large outside the enclosure of the owner of such stock, and if any of the species of domestic animals aforesaid be found running at large, outside the enclosure of the owner, it shall be lawful for any person, and it is hereby made the duty of the sheriff or other officer having police powers, on his own view, or when notified by any other person that any of such stock is so running at large, to restrain the same forthwith, and such person or officer shall, within three days, give notice thereof to the owner, if known, in writing, stating therein the amount of compensation for feeding and keeping such animal or animals and damages claimed, and thereupon the owner shall pay the person, or officer, taking up such animal or animals a reasonable compensation for the taking up, keeping and feeding such animal, or animals, and shall also pay all persons damaged by reason of such animals running at large, the actual damages sustained by him or them; provided, that said owner shall not be responsible for any accident on a public road or highway if he establishes the fact that the said animal or animals were outside the enclosure through no fault or negligence of the owner. If the owner of such stock be not known, or if notified and fails to make compensation for the taking up, feeding and keeping of animals taken up under the provisions of this chapter, the same shall be deemed strays, and shall be dealt with in the same manner as required by law with respect to such property as strays, under the stray law. Any failure or refusal on the part of such officer to discharge the duties required of him by this section shall render him liable on his bond to any person damaged by such failure or refusal, which damages may be sued for and recovered in any court of competent jurisdiction. (emphasis added)
Chapter 272 will give you the definition of a fence. Surprisingly, most people in Missouri do not realize the legislature has defined what a “fence” is. A “fence” in Missouri is defined as follows:
272.020. 1. Any fence consisting of posts and wire or boards at least four feet high which is mutually agreed upon by adjoining landowners or decided upon by the associate circuit court of the county is a lawful fence.
2. All posts shall be set firmly in the ground not more than twelve feet apart with wire or boards securely fastened to such posts and placed at proper distances apart to resist horses, cattle and other similar livestock.
Therefore, if a cattle farmer does not abide by the definition of the word “fence” as described in Chapter 272, they can be held liable for any damage their cow has caused, regardless if they knew if got out or not.
If a person is injured in a collision with cattle, or any other livestock, here is what must be proved in order to recover:
- The defendant is the true owner of the cow;
- Proof of the time and place of the crash;
- Proof that the Stock Law (RSMo 272.010) was in effect at the time of the crash;
- Proof that the plaintiff was injured; and
- The defendant permitted or allowed his cows to run at large.
See Beshore v. Gretzinger, 641 S.W.2d 858 (Mo.App. W.D. 1982)
To show proof the defendant is the true owner can sometimes be tricky. If the cow is not properly tagged, there will be some difficulty identifying the true owner. Most cattle these days are tagged with a number in their ear or a microchip. Rarely, will you see a physical brand of the kind seen in old west movies. Most cattle farmers are sophisticated businessmen who keep a close watch on their livestock.
Proving the time and place of the crash should not be too difficult if you call the police immediately. The police will document the crash scene. The injured party can also testify to the time and place of the crash. Finally, most cows do not survive these crashes so the proof will most likely be lying in the road.
The Stock Law is in effect and showing proof of such doesn’t require much of anything—the law in Missouri is in effect and the Stock Law falls under that.
Showing injuries to the plaintiff does not differ from any other car crash. You will have to show the crash with the cow caused the injury and this type of injury is one that would occur when a collision with a cow occurs. These crashes can be very serious and significant injury, even death, can occur. Most cows weigh over 1,000lbs and most cars are travelling over 40 mile per hour at the time of a crash. As you can imagine, the crash can be deadly.
The final thing you must prove is the defendant allowed the cow to roam freely. The biggest source of proof for this element will be the actual cow or livestock in the road. The cow outside the enclosure or fencing is proof it is roaming freely. It then becomes the defendant’s job to prove they did not do anything wrong. See RSMo 270.010 again. It says clearly the “owner shall not be responsible for any accident on a public road or highway if he establishes the fact that the said animal or animals were outside the enclosure through no fault or negligence of the owner.” The owner must prove he was not negligent. This is a reversal of what is commonly required in the court of law. Usually, a plaintiff must prove all the elements of a case. But here, the Stock Law reveres the burden of proof and makes it the defendant’s job to prove to the Court he did everything he was supposed to do. This can be a tall order.
There are many things to look at when considering this element, including the design maintenance and construction of the fencing. It is important to look at the height of the fence, how often it was maintained, how deep were the fence posts set, how far apart were the fence posts, were they cedar fence posts, were they steel fence posts, was this an electric fence, was this a barbed wire fence, how was the wire strewn around the posts, how were water crossings secured, etc….. You should also look to see if calves were separated from their mothers, were bulls keep nearby the heifers, and were there signs of rubbing against the fence line and other issues. This type of investigation can give you better insight into the farming practices of the cow owner and whether the defendant knew what they were doing. If you can show the defendant failed to take into account one or more of these issues, you may be able to prove the defendant negligently allowed the cattle to roam freely. Remember, under this final element, the defendant must prove that he did everything he was supposed to.
There are many issues that can come up with livestock and cattle crashes. The information above is just a little of what must be considered when prosecuting these types of cases. If you’ve been involved in a roaming cattle car crash in or around St. Louis, Missouri, you may want the help of an experienced accident attorney. If you would like more information, please contact our office.