Collisions With Animals – Who is at Fault?

Mississippi drivers don’t just have other road users to look out for. While most car accidents are due to negligent driving by other cars, motorcyclists, and trucks, wild and domesticated animals can be an unwelcome hazard on many roads, even close to towns and cities. Most animals have little road sense, don’t understand or follow traffic rules, and are often active when it is getting dark or in the dead of night. Are collisions with animals just a matter of chance, or are there any rules that allow an injured car driver to recover the cost of an injury or the cost of damage to their vehicle?

Like all accidents, it all comes down to apportioning negligence. Close to suburbs or along busy freeways, wildlife may be prevented from straying onto a road by fencing, but this is rarely something that is actually in place. Accidents with a large, wild animal or even with a smaller one that causes the driver to swerve into the path of other traffic or into trees or other obstructions on the side of the road can potentially be very serious, but like accidents caused by bad weather, virtually impossible to declare that it is someone else’s fault.

Who is at fault when you are hit by a driver avoiding a wild animal?

It becomes a clearer issue when your vehicle is hit or forced to swerve by another vehicle that is trying to avoid a collision with a wild animal crossing the road. Was the other driver’s behavior justified? Was the driver speeding, was the driver under the influence of alcohol or drugs or wasn’t concentrating because of another avoidable distraction? If any of these were the real cause of the accident, then you may have the right to claim compensation from the driver for the damage done to your own vehicle or medical costs related to any injuries you suffered as a result of the accident.

Domestic animals should be constrained from wandering onto the roadside

In many parts of Mississippi, domestic animals, such as cattle, horses, sheep, and goats are kept as livestock. Mississippi has a statewide stock law that states that the owners of livestock are expected to keep their own animals constrained within their own property, i.e. fence them in so that they don’t wander onto other people’s property causing a nuisance. This law also applies to livestock kept on farms alongside highways throughout the state. If a cow or hog escapes from a farm and wanders onto the road and you hit it, you have good grounds for seeking compensation from the owner of the animal.

There is a limited exception to this where certain state counties have voted to exclude themselves from the stock law. If this is the case, then the stock has the right to be on the road, unless it is a federal or state highway. Note that this limited exception is actually a state rule in many other states where an open range law exists, such as Texas, Colorado, Montana, Wyoming, Tennessee, and Virginia.

This means that even if you were driving through one of the ‘exclusion’ counties and hit a horse that has escaped through an open gate, you may have grounds for claiming compensation as long as it was on a state or federal highway. If it was on a suburban road, the horse owner may be able to get away with it!

What about collisions with pets on the loose?

Car accidents are often caused by collisions with pets running onto the road. If it is a small pet, like a cat or a small dog, the chances are that the pet is going to be badly injured or killed with little damage to the occupants of the car. Motorcyclists are likely to be in more danger, as are drivers who try and swerve to avoid the animal or if the pet is a larger animal.

Mississippi does not have a state-wide ‘leash law’ like some other states (e.g. Tennessee) that makes owners liable for damages caused by unrestrained pets. However, there may be a city or county law in place that has the same effect in law. If this has happened to you, you may still be able to claim compensation from the pet owner if it can be shown that the accident was caused by negligence on part of the owner and not you as the driver of a vehicle.

Contact a personal injury attorney at Diaz Law Firm for legal advice and help with a claim against the owner of an animal that has caused an accident you were involved in. Contact the Diaz Law Firm or call us at 601-607-3456 or toll-free at 800-459-2222.