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).]