Many people envision California as a land of beaches, ball games, wine, and movie stars. Though that is not untrue, California’s number one industry is agriculture, followed by the film and tourism industries. Agriculture can quickly become relevant for those traveling outside of the bay area or the southern California coast, especially on rural roadways. The unpredictable threat of hitting a cow might sound like something out of a TV comedy, but it is no laughing matter when it happens to you. Who is liable if you hit a cow?
Who Is at Fault When Hitting a Cow?
Each state has its own laws regarding fault when hitting a cow. The California Food and Agricultural Code governs vehicle collisions with livestock in the state. The circumstances of location could play an important role in determining liability when you hit a cow.
Under California law, “A person that owns or controls the possession of any livestock shall not willfully or negligently permit any of the livestock to stray upon, or remain unaccompanied by a person in charge or control of the livestock upon, a public highway, if both sides of the highway are adjoined by property which is separated from the highway by a fence, wall, hedge, sidewalk, curb, lawn, or building.” This means that livestock location matters if the highway runs between property with a barrier—as opposed to an open-range situation.
California law also provides, “In any civil action which is brought by the owner, driver, or occupant of a motor vehicle, or by their personal representatives or assignees, or by the owner of livestock, for damages which are caused by a collision between any motor vehicle and any domestic animal (livestock) on a highway, there is no presumption or inference that the collision was due to negligence on behalf of the owner or the person in possession of the animal.” This means that when you have a motor vehicle collision with a cow, there is no presumption that the collision was caused by the negligence of the cow’s owner. In other words, the burden of proof is on you to demonstrate that the cow was not restrained properly (for example, by a fence) and the cow’s owner is thus at fault.
What to Do After Hitting a Cow
Hitting a cow is different from hitting a deer or a raccoon. Cows can weigh 1,000 to 2,000 pounds in some cases, and they can cause serious damage depending on your speed and where the impact occurred. Here are some steps to take to make sure you are physically taken care of and have proper documentation of the incident.
Receive Medical Attention
Call the paramedics to address any potentially serious injuries. Everything else can wait. Your health is the priority.
Check on Animal
You should check to see if the cow is still alive. Be cautious when approaching if the cow is lying on the road. Contact the appropriate county animal services for where the accident occurred. Some examples include:
- Stanislaus County (Modesto) Field Services 209-558-7387,
- City of Monterey wildlife emergencies 831-646-3914,
- Turlock Police Department for sick or injured animals 209-668-1200, and
- County of Merced Animal Services 209-385-7436.
If you cannot reach someone in an emergency situation, contact local law enforcement because they have the resources to coordinate moving an injured animal and contacting the owner.
Call Law Enforcement
Cows can be very expensive, as are vehicles. As with any auto vehicle accident, have local law enforcement come to the scene to file a proper report documenting the incident. They may also be able to help contact the owner of the cow and have it removed from the road.
If you’re injured, contact 911. Otherwise, you can reach out to local law enforcement in the area where you are. Accidents on California freeways typically fall under California Highway Patrol (CHP) jurisdiction. For immediate non-emergency help, 1-800-TELL-CHP (800-835-5247). Other possible phone numbers include:
- City of Modesto Police Department 209-572-9500 or 209-552-2470 (non-emergency dispatch),
- City of Monterey Police Department non-emergency dispatch 831-646-3914,
- Turlock Police Department non-emergency 209-668-1200, and
- City of Merced Police Department non-emergency 209-385-6905.
If you sustained injuries in the collision, err on the side of caution and call 911. That will ensure the right police department receives notification and can contact animal control to help move the injured cow.
Take Photos of the Scene
It may not be pretty, but having visual documentation can help you prove where the cow was in relation to your vehicle, the extent of the damage, the location, the weather conditions, and more. Your cell phone images will be sufficient for this purpose.
Talk to Witnesses
Even if another driver or neighbor did not see the accident, they may have seen the animal in the road or other cows wandering in the area. If this is a frequent occurrence in the area, that is relevant information. Get their contact information for follow-up questions.
Unsure what to ask the witnesses? The following are some sample questions that might be helpful to remember asking.
- What did you see or hear before the collision?
- Did you have a clear view of the accident?
- Did you see where the cow came from?
- Was anyone with you in the vehicle at the time of the accident?
- Will you make a statement to the police?
- What were you doing at the time of the accident? Where did you go after?
If the witness is unable to stay at the scene to give a statement, ask if you can record their testimony on your phone. Be sure they state their contact information clearly. Witness information is important as it can help determine whether you’re liable if you hit a cow.
See Your Doctor
Even if you were fine at the time of the accident, aches and pains can surface days later. Serious injuries that keep you from working or cause permanent damage are compensable.
Why Hire an Attorney After Hitting a Cow?
Neither party is automatically at fault. Fault (negligence) must be proved for either you or the cow’s owner to recover damages. California is a comparative negligence state. Even if you are partially negligent for the accident, you can still pursue a personal injury claim against the livestock owner. Factors such as speed and distracted driving could contribute to the accident. The experienced attorneys at Silva Injury Law, Inc. understand what it takes to succeed in cases where liability is not expressly clear. We are happy to investigate the accident, gather evidence, negotiate with insurance companies, and litigate when necessary. We will not charge upfront legal fees for your case. We receive compensation only if you do. Contact us today for your free consultation.
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At Silva Injury Law we promote healing through compassionate advocacy. With each case tailored to the individual, we look our for your best interests by evaluating your unique circumstances. Contact us today for a FREE in person or remote consultation.