Unbounded Risk in Open Range Districts
Driving along a highway at night, motorists don’t expect to see herds of cattle or horses. In designated “open range” districts, however, these animals could potentially cross the road in the day or night. So what happens when motorists collide with horses or livestock in open range districts?
Open Range Laws
Nationwide, most states are NOT open range states, and horse owners are required to reasonably secure them in barns and pastures to keep them off of roadways. A few states, that include (but are not limited to) Nevada, Montana, Texas, and Idaho, allow livestock owners to allow them to roam unfenced, with some restrictions. For example, Nevada Revised Statutes Sec. 568.355 defines “open range” as “all unenclosed land outside of cities and towns upon which cattle, sheep or other domestic animals by custom, license, lease or permit are grazed or permitted to roam.” This state’s law, Nevada Revised Statutes Sec. 568.360, addresses liabilities of animal owners:
1. No person, firm or corporation owning, controlling or in possession of any domestic animal running on open range has the duty to keep the animal off any highway traversing or located on the open range, and no such person, firm or corporation is liable for damages to any property or for injury to any person caused by any collision between a motor vehicle and the animal occurring on such a highway.
2. Any person, firm or corporation negligently allowing a domestic animal to enter within a fenced right-of-way of a highway is liable for damages caused by a collision between a motor vehicle and the animal occurring on the highway.
Courts have found that motorists who collide with loose livestock in designated open range areas may not have recourse against animal owners, with few exceptions. In a Wyoming case, for example, the plaintiffs’ vehicles collided with loose cattle at night on an unfenced public highway that was located in a posted “open range” district. The motorists sued. Holding that the litigation against the animal owners was properly dismissed, the Wyoming Supreme Court held that Wyoming law “does not require a livestock owner to prevent livestock from wandering onto public highways so long as the area is posted as open range.” [Case: Anderson v. Two Dot Ranch, 49 P.3d 1011 (Wyo. 2002).]
In Louisiana, a motorist struck a cow on the road and sued the cow’s owner for damages. The trial court judge ruled for the cow owner, but an appeal followed. The appellate court found that the collision occurred in an “open range” area so such the defendant cow owner had no duty to confine his cow and was not liable to the motorist. [Case: Willis v. Cloud, 758 So.2d 835, 837 (La. App. 2000).]
For More Information
Please keep in mind that exceptions could exist depending on the facts and the applicable state law. Read every statute and ordinance carefully and consult with legal counsel when questions arise.
Julie Fershtman is considered to be one of the nation's leading attorneys in the field of equine law. A frequent author and speaker on legal issues, she has written over 400 published articles, three books, and has lectured at seminars, conventions, and conferences in 29 states on issues involving law, liability, risk management, and insurance. For more information, please also visit www.fershtmanlaw.com and www.equinelaw.net, and www.equinelaw.info.View All Posts by Author ›
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National Conference on Equine Law in Louisville, Kentucky on April 29, 2020. Topic will be on Waivers/Releases of Liability Involving Minor Participants.
U.S. Hunter Jumper Association (USHJA) Annual Convention in Denver, Colorado on December 10, 2019. Topic will be on Equine Liability.
IRMI Emmett J. Vaughan Agribusiness Conference (“AgriCon”) in Sacramento, CA (April 2019), and Richmond, VA (June 2019) and in Des Moines, IA (September 2019), on topics of “Equine Activity Liability Acts” and “Equine Mortality Insurance Disputes.”
National Conference on Equine Law in May 2019 in Lexington, KY, on the topic of “Equine Activity Liability Act Updates” and liabilities involving hosting of equine clinics.
Agricultural Claims Conference in Kansas City, MO, in March 2019 on topics of “Loose Livestock Liabilities.”
2018 American Bar Association Annual Meeting in Chicago, IL, on “Equine Mortality Coverage and Disputes.”
November 2018, American Horse Council webinar on “Equine Liability.”
Honors & Recognitions
Equine lawyer, Julie Fershtman, has received these prestigious equine industry awards from respected equine organizations:
"Excellence in the Advancement of Animal Law Award" - American Bar Association Tort Trial & Insurance Law Section Animal Law Committee
"Distinguished Service Award" - American Youth Horse Council
"Industry Service Award" - Michigan Equine Partnership
"Catalyst Award"- Michigan Horse Council
"Outstanding Achievement Award" - American Riding Instructors Association
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"Associate Service Award" - United Professional Horseman's Association
"National Partnership in Safety" Award" - Certified Horsemanship Association
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