COOKE COUNTY, Texas – Early this morning, Ana Prado, 67, was driving down I-35 when she hit a horse in the road. Both Prado and her passenger Rosa Medina were taken by helicopter to the hospital. Medina was killed as a result of the wreck; Prado’s condition is uncertain.
Who’s To Blame for Wandering Livestock Accidents?
Each year, hundreds of people are hurt in car accidents involving livestock. However, many Texans are quick to point out that Texas is an “open range” state, meaning that livestock have the right of way on roads, and livestock owners aren’t legally required to keep their animals off roadways.
Technically, this is all true. However, there are two exceptions to the “open range” law.
Open Range and Common Law
According to common law, Texas is an open range state. In 1999, Texas’ open range status was reinforced when the Texas Supreme Court refused to amend the law to prohibit owners from letting their livestock onto roadways. Today, it holds that animal owners can’t be held liable for any injury to a driver who runs into their animals on the road.
This isn’t the end of the story, however. In certain areas of Texas, stock laws overruling the open range law. Since each stock law is different and applies to separate areas, it’s critical to determine the following information:
- 1) Does a stock law exist in the area where the accident occurred? Though there is no official compilation of stock laws in Texas (they’re held in the minutes of county commissioners courts), you’d need to get a copy of the laws from the local county officials.
- 2) What animals are included in the law? (It’s possible that the law includes cattle and donkeys but not horses, for instance).
- 3) Did the landowner “permit” their animals to run at large? (The distinction matters. Most local stock laws prohibit an owner from “permitting” their animals to run at large, though if the animal happens to be doing so anyway, that’s allowed. A tough thing to prove and a curious distinction, but part of the law nonetheless).
State and Federal Highways
The Texas Legislature has also enacted an exception to the rule; livestock owners may not allow their animals to roam on highways. If a car hits an animal on the highway and injury occurs, the livestock owner can be held liable.