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Nuisance Animals and Car Accidents – Sholberg v. Truman

Anyone who has ever struck a deer or other large animal recognizes the extensive damage such an impact can cause.

While there is no way to sue wildlife, Deerfield Beach car accident attorneys know you are entitled to take legal action if the large animal you hit is owned by someone who negligently failed to keep it in a proper enclosure. Prime examples would be cattle or horses, but could also potentially include goats, sheep and pigs.

A stronger case be made if it’s proven the animal owner has a history of being derelict in keeping the animal away from public roads.

This might seem a far-fetched issue in our increasingly urbanized world. However, researchers from the University of Florida have estimated there are approximately 19,000 livestock farms across the state. This agricultural economy has been made to co-exist with rapid population and commercial growth, which means it’s not out of the question to see a farm next to a drug store or near a largely commercial district with high traffic.

The state does not mandate owners of livestock fence their animals. However, the majority do because state laws do hold owners accountable if animals stray onto public roads, particularly if they cause a safety hazard. If a person is hurt in a crash resulting from wandering livestock in Florida, the driver and/or any passengers can bring action against the animal owner.

In the 1968 case of Hughes v. Landers, a man and his daughter collided with a horse while driving, resulting in the daughter’s death. Liability was assessed by the fact that the owner’s fence was in general disrepair, there were no hinges on the gates, which were secured by two flimsy, rotted ropes – one of which was untied. In another case in 1975, Prevatt v. Carter, a motorcyclist injured when he struck a black cow while driving at night was able to establish negligence by showing the owner knew the fence surrounding the cattle was in disrepair and the animals were routinely escaping from their grazing area. Often, a single incident is not enough to prove negligence.

In the more recent case of Estate of Sholberg v. Truman, the Michigan Supreme Court was tasked with determining whether the title owners of a property could be held negligent, alongside the owner of a horse that had wandered into a public roadway. The horse standing in the road was struck by a vehicle, and the driver was killed.

Her estate filed suit, pointing to at least 30 previous documented instances of animals escaping from the property and creating a public hazard.

While the issue of negligence on behalf of the owner, who had direct control of the horse, was not in doubt, the courts were torn on the issue of liability of the property owner. While the trial court ruled against the horse owner, it ruled in favor of the title owners, indicating they had no control over the animals and owned the property in name alone. However, the appellate court reversed, finding ownership of the property a valid basis for a claim of negligence. However, the state supreme court again reversed, finding that because the title owners did not possess or exercise control over the property (indeed, they hadn’t been there in over 10 years), they were not liable for damages to the estate.

The wrongful death claim was still successful against the horse owner, but future claims against property owners in these cases will be limited – at least in Michigan.

A similar finding was issued in Florida in the 1983 case of Davidson v. Howard.

Freeman Injury Law — 1-800-561-7777 for a free appointment to discuss your rights.

Additional Resources:
Estate of Sholberg v. Truman, June 10, 2014, Michigan Supreme Court

More Blog Entries:
Enforcing Coblentz Agreement Requires Experienced Lawyer, May 23, 2014, Deerfield Beach Car Accident Lawyer Blog

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