In the case of cattle and cars tangling, am I liable?

My family owns some cattle. Adjoining our property is a highway. The cattle have escaped before without incident. If our cattle were to escape and cause a car accident, would we be held responsible?

The answer to your question is “maybe” and depends on the surrounding circumstances.

The Kansas legislature has adopted a series of statutes that deal with this situation. Most notably, Kansas law imposes a blanket-wide prohibition making it “unlawful for any neat cattle, horses, mules, asses, swine or sheep to run at large.” The statute authorizes damages and allows for a lien to be placed on the animal(s) for the amount of the damages.

In addition to applying to cattle and the other identified livestock, an attorney general opinion exists that bizarrely determines that the statute applies to peacocks! Thus, the range of animals encompassed by the statute is probably much broader than those explicitly listed.

Kansas also has a herd law in place and more specific statutes that may be applicable to a given situation involving escaped animals.

Several Kansas court cases have applied the above laws to the situation of escaped livestock causing injury to a person or property, with the decisions arriving at various outcomes. Some general rules, however, can be gleaned from these opinions.

Foremost, it appears that a landowner that takes proper steps to secure livestock is not automatically liable in the event that the livestock escape and cause injuries on a highway. Rather, the individual alleging an injury must prove negligence. In other words, the plaintiff must show that the landowner failed to exercise ordinary care in keeping the livestock fenced into the property in question.

Although the owner of animals must exercise reasonable care in keeping animals confined, absolute security is not required. Kansas courts thus leave open the possibility that livestock may escape through no fault of the landowner and absolve the landowner from liability in that scenario.

In one case where a landowner was held responsible for injuries caused to a motorist by an escaped horse, several circumstances existed that demonstrated negligence. For instance, the plaintiff established that the gate was left open by the landowner on the day of the incident and that the owner’s horses had escaped on several prior occasions.

With the above in mind, and outside the scope of the question, it is important to note that other rules may apply where the escaped livestock damage property. For instance, a Kansas Supreme Court case addressed a situation where a landowner’s escaped cattle destroyed a neighbor’s crops.

With the above in mind, the liability to a landowner posed by escaped cattle causing injuries to motorists depends on all the surrounding circumstances and whether negligence exists. As a general rule, however, it would be sound advice to inspect your fence and ensure that all precautions are taken to ensure that your cattle are properly secured.