WHO IS LIABLE WHEN A CAR ACCIDENT IS CAUSED BY AN ANIMAL?
Most of the time when you think about a car accident, you think about a vehicle hitting a fixed object or two or more vehicles colliding. In Texas, however, you also need to think about accidents caused by animals in the roadway. Anywhere from 8,000 to more than 10,000 accidents in Texas each year involve a wild or domestic animal.
If you have been injured in a car accident caused by an animal, you might be wondering how you can recover the money you need to pay your medical bills, compensate for lost income while you are unable to work, or even pay for the damage to your vehicle. Depending on the circumstances of the crash and available insurance coverage, you may be able to recover compensation.
As a personal injury attorney, I have helped clients in Houston, Webster, South Houston, Pasadena, Clear Lake, Friendswood, League City, Kemah, Alvin, and the rest of the state explore their options for financial recovery following accidents caused by animals in Texas. Here are a few things you should know.
How Often Do Animals Cause Accidents?
Animal collisions account for only about 2% of all accidents, while collisions involving two or more vehicles account for about 45%. The potential for injuries, however, is just as high in a crash caused by a wild or domestic animal in the roadway, especially when the average weight of a cow is roughly 1,600 pounds.
Who Is Liable?
If the animal is owned and should be under the control of its owner, that person may be liable for your damages. In Texas, there are specific laws that either hold or do not hold owners of livestock liable when their stock causes a crash.
Livestock owners have a duty to keep their animals off state and federal roadways; however, they do not have a duty if their livestock wanders onto smaller roadways, unless there is a local stock law that specifically holds them liable.
For example, you are driving on Interstate 10 at night when a cow suddenly appears in your headlights. You have no time to avoid hitting it. Because it was a cow and because it was standing on an interstate highway, the owner is liable for your damages. If, however, the cow had been standing on a numbered route in a county with no stock law, you could not hold the owner liable for your damages.
While some livestock owners cannot be held accountable for damages caused by stock, Texas dog owners can be. It is illegal for dogs to roam around Texas. So long as a dog isn’t a stray, the owner can be held financially responsible for an accident caused by their dog.
The Animal Owner’s Insurance Coverage
Insurance coverage for the stock or dog owner’s liability can be an issue. Most livestock owners will likely have a premises liability and/or umbrella policy that would provide coverage; however, not all dog owners will have coverage. Since the crash was caused by their animals, not by their vehicles, their auto liability coverage will not apply. You may, however, be able to file a personal injury lawsuit to pursue a judgment against them.
If a deer or other wild animal causes the crash, you would have to rely on your own auto insurance coverage for compensation. You would need to have a full-coverage policy to file a claim.
What is Full-Coverage Insurance?
Full-coverage auto insurance provides coverage for more than just an auto owner’s liability should they cause an accident and injure someone else. You are required to carry liability coverage in Texas, but it will not pay for any injuries and damages you sustain in an auto accident.
Many auto owners elect to carry comprehensive and collision coverage, and lenders may require it if you are financing your vehicle. You can file a claim against your collision coverage to repair damage to your vehicle if you swerve to avoid hitting an animal and collide with an object instead. Comprehensive coverage applies when your car is damaged by weather or vandalism or something other than a crash, including a crash caused by an animal.
If you are injured in the accident, regardless of fault, you can file a claim against the personal injury protection (PIP) benefits included in your own auto policy, so long as you did not decline PIP coverage. Texas requires insurance companies to provide auto owners with PIP coverage; however, many owners decline it because they don’t want to pay for it. If you are injured in a collision with a wild or stray animal or an animal where the owner cannot be held liable, you will be in trouble if you don’t have PIP. It will pay up to the limits for medical expenses and income lost while you are unable to work.
How Jose Orihuela, Attorney at Law, Can Help
Coverage for your damages if you are injured in an accident caused by an animal can be elusive. It’s a good idea to have an experienced car accident lawyer like me on your side. I can investigate liability, explore insurance coverage options, and help you file a lawsuit should that be necessary. There is no reason you should tackle the challenges of animal collisions on your own.
If you have been injured in or near Houston, Webster, South Houston, Pasadena, as well as Bacliff, Dickinson, Seabrook, Santa Fe, or anywhere else in Texas, call my office to schedule a free consultation.