Personal Injury Lawyers
Attorney Van O'Steen

Livestock Have Right to Roam

Van O'Steen

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Some time ago, a friend of mine was driving at night through northern Arizona when a horse suddenly ran onto the highway in front of him.  His car struck the horse and killed it.  He was also injured in the collision.

His insurance company later paid damages to the owner of the horse, and he received no compensation for his injuries.  If the same accident had occurred in a city, a different financial arrangement probably would have occurred.

A little history will help explain this contradiction.

Historically, much of the land in Arizona was owned by the federal government, and only a small portion of land was privately owned.  The federal government established the custom of allowing cattle to run at large on its unfenced land.  If the federal lands had not been available for grazing, the cattle would have necessarily roamed on other privately owned lands nearby.  With the encouragement of the federal government as the primary landowner, the custom of the open range developed.

Arizona required the owner of private premises to fence his or her land to keep animals out, rather than require the owner of animals to fence the land upon which they were grazing to keep them in.  Without a fence, a landowner could not recover for damage to his lands caused by trespassing livestock, and with a fence, he was not likely to have any damage.

The importance of this law to motorists is that the owner of livestock is not responsible for keeping his animals off the highway in an open range.  For that reason, the owner is not responsible for injuries to a motorist caused by hitting livestock in an open range area.  The Arizona Legislature, however, allowed county boards of supervisors to create “no-fence districts.”  In a no-fence district, a landowner is not required to fence out trespassing livestock to recover for damages caused by grazing livestock.  Instead, the livestock owner may be liable when he allows his livestock to graze indiscriminately within a no-fence district.

Motorists approaching livestock should remember that they must exercise reasonable care to prevent harm to animals.  A motorist must reduce speed and cannot proceed toward them until they are under control, unless it is necessary to avoid an accident.

If a motorist acts unreasonably and hits an animal, he or she could receive a citation, and be liable for the injures caused to the livestock.