Cow Collisions: Liability of Livestock Owners

Rural areas like Humboldt County have ranching and cattle production as part of the local economy, but most motorists don’t reasonably expect to encounter livestock loose on Highway 101.  But that is exactly what a current client of Janssen Malloy LLP partner Michael Crowley faced late this past summer, when a large black shape suddenly appeared in front of her car around 8:30 p.m. one night.  Her vehicle collided with a cow on the highway, near the Loleta Drive exit.  The ensuing impact left her with a fractured sternum, multi-level vertebral fractures, facial fractures, and a traumatic brain injury.  Earlier the same day, prior motorists had called 911 about cows loose on Highway 101 in that area, and the CHP had responded to the scene and found the livestock owner trying to gather up his cows that had escaped pasture nearby.  Several hours later, our client came upon more cows, resulting in the injury-producing collision.  Shortly after 2:00 a.m. the following day, a big rig driver hauling scrap metal overturned in attempting to avoid striking yet more cows in the same area of Highway 101.
The livestock owner was cited for violating California Food and Agricultural Code section 16902, which states, “ A person who owns or controls the possession of any livestock shall not willfully or negligently permit any of the livestock to stray upon…a public highway, if both sides of the highway are adjoined by property which is separated from the highway by a fence…”  Our client was not driving in an area known as “free range,” where livestock are permitted to room unrestrained by fencing, but traveling along a very busy section of the major north-south highway along the northern coast, Highway 101.  This is not the first cow collision case handled by Janssen Malloy LLP.  Janssen Malloy LLP partner Patrik Griego concluded a prior case for a client who suffered major injuries from an encounter with loose cows on the highway outside Ferndale, which resulted in recovery of the $1,000,000 policy limit coverage of the defendant livestock owner.
Cases of this type require prompt investigation and confirmation of livestock ownership, interviews of witnesses that confirm liability, identifying the commercial agricultural insurance coverage of the livestock owner, and full presentation of the injuries and damages suffered by the client.  The skilled trial attorneys at Janssen Malloy LLP have the experience to obtain the full measure of damages due our clients when such events occur.