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Who Is Liable When an Animal Causes a Car Accident?

Blogs from February, 2023


You don’t have to be driving on a two-lane, rural road to have animals crossing your path when on a trip.

Crashes involving domestic and wild animals occur on all Texas roadways - Interstate Highways, State Highways, suburban roads, County Road, Farm to Market roads and more. In 2021 in Texas, there were nearly 2,400 accidents involving domestic animals and more than 5,000 involving wildlife.  

If you have ever caught the proverbial deer in your headlights, you know how suddenly they can appear and how unpredictably they can move. It’s no wonder that many crashes occur because motorists try to avoid animals or simply can’t avoid hitting them. When that happens, can someone be held liable for the injuries and damages they cause? 

At Rick Davis & Associates Attorneys at Law, I help clients figure out if they may be entitled to compensation when they are involved in an accident caused by a domestic or wild animal. My firm serves those in Bryan, Anderson, Brenham, Caldwell, Madisonville, and College Station, Texas, as well as Burleson, Grimes, Madison, and Washington counties. 

What Are Some Common Accidents Caused by Animals? 

Auto accidents can be caused by any animal on the roadway.

Around Bryan, Texas and College Station, Texas, whitetail deer, dogs, coyotes, cows in the road, and horses can cause crashes. However, drivers trying to swerve to miss smaller wild animals, such as cats, raccoons, skunks, turtles, and squirrels, sometimes sustain injuries and damage to their vehicles as well.  

Damage is caused either upon impact with the animal or because the driver swerved to avoid hitting the animal and then drove into a ditch, another vehicle, other stationery objects, or over-corrected their vehicles.

Sometimes, a driver who stops suddenly to avoid impact with an animal in front of them is rear-ended by a vehicle that couldn’t stop soon enough behind them.  

There are also accidents caused by animals inside vehicles. An unrestrained pet can distract a driver or even interfere directly with the driver's line of sight or driver's ability to keep his or her hands on the steering wheel.  

Who Is Liable in Animal-Caused Crashes? 

Any time we are in an accident, we tend to look to see if someone else caused it.

When an accident is caused by a wild animal, it really is just an accident. No one can be held liable for that type of accident because wild animals are not under anyone’s control.  

In order for a person's liability to be established for an injury, it must be shown that the person was negligent.

Negligence occurs when someone owes a duty of care, they breach or fail to uphold that duty, and their failure results in an accident that causes injuries and damages. For example, depending on the location within the State, a rancher may have a duty to keep his cattle fenced in. Sometimes these duties are created by stock laws which can vary from county to county and even vary within a county, depending on where you are.

So, if an accident is caused by a domestic animal, it is possible that you can hold the owner of the animal liable for your damages if the owner was negligent.

An experienced car accident attorney can help determine whether someone has been negligent and how to pursue a claim for compensation for property damage repairs, for reasonable and necessary medical expenses incurred and paid because of the accident, for lost income or wages and even for pain and suffering.  

For example, in many places, cattle and horses should be secured in fenced areas that prohibit them from wandering into a roadway. A rancher who fails to check fences and secure livestock may be legally responsible for the damages caused when that livestock ends up in a roadway and causes a crash.

The same is true for a dog owner who fails to keep their dog from running into the street or down a country road. You would be able to file a personal injury or property damage claim against the animal owner’s premises liability or umbrella coverage or pursue a judgment against them to compensate you.  

If you are hit by a vehicle in which the driver was distracted by an animal in their car, that driver can be held liable for your injuries and damages. That driver owed a duty of care to operate their vehicle safely, so they should have had the animal restrained to avoid distraction. You would be able to file a personal injury claim against their auto liability coverage, just as you could against the driver of a vehicle that ran a red light and hit you.  

Who Is Liable if I Was Trying to Avoid Hitting an Animal? 

If you didn’t hit the animal but suffered injuries or damages to your vehicle because you took evasive measures to avoid it, the owner of a domestic animal can still be held liable. If someone runs a red light and you swerve and hit a signpost trying to avoid impact, the person who ran the light was still negligent.  

It can be more complicated. If you swerve to avoid hitting an animal but hit another vehicle or caused it to crash, that driver may be able to hold you liable. However, you may still be able to hold the animal owner liable if they were negligent as well.  

How Do I Pay for Damages if a Wild Animal Causes a Crash? 

If your car is damaged in an accident caused by a wild animal, you can use your comprehensive coverage to pay for repairs, that is, if you have that comprehensive coverage in your policy.

Collision coverage is what pays for damages in crashes with other vehicles or fixed objects. Comprehensive coverage applies to damage done by unexpected circumstances or acts of God, such as hail damage, damage from a limb falling on your car, or damage done when you hit or avoid a wild animal. If you don’t have comprehensive coverage, you will have to pay out of your own pocket to repair your car.  

If you are injured in an accident caused by a wild animal, you can use your personal injury protection (PIP) or medical payment (Medpay) coverage under your own automobile insurance policy (if you have either PIP or Medpay on your policy) to pay for your medical expenses. PIP coverage will also cover lost income, rehabilitation, and other expenses.  

The Protection You Need 

Negligence is the key to being able to hold someone accountable for the injuries and damages you suffer in a car accident involving a domestic animal. It isn’t always easy to prove negligence, which is why you should work with an experienced personal injury attorney like me.  

If you have been injured in an accident involving a domestic animal in Bryan, Texas, or any of the surrounding counties, call Rick Davis & Association Attorneys at Law now to schedule a free case consultation.

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