I live in England in the UK. I frequently commute to work via a scenic country route. Sometimes a farmer marches his livestock down one of the public roads. The cars stop on one side and the farmer leads them down the other.

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I was wondering: if one of the cows reared up and damaged my car, who would be liable? My car is stationary on a public highway. Would it be the farmer? Or would it be considered an "act of god"?

  • Interesting question. The laws I'm familiar with usually involve the owner allowing livestock to roam "at large". It's not clear to me if driving them to a different pasture counts as "at large". – ColleenV Nov 5 '15 at 17:31

This is covered in the Animals Act 1971 Chapter 22: "An Act to make provision with respect to civil liability for damage done by animals and with respect to the protection of livestock from dogs; and for purposes connected with those matters." http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/1971/22

The use of the roads by livestock under control is legal. If a cow damaged a car when a herd of cows was being moved, the driver could probably make the case that it is the farmers fault, as they are using and operting on the highway in much the same way as any other traffic: car, truck, horse drawn carraige, etc. And much the same way if the farmer was driving a car and collided by his own fault with the driver.

In the US West, "Open Range" laws can work in the opposite manner; in some cases, you hit a cow, you pay for it, and pay for the damage to your own vehicle. See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Open_range

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    Livestock (and wild horses) have right of way over all vehicles, and the Highway Code says "If a road is blocked by a herd of animals, stop and switch off your engine until they have left the road" (s.214). Unless the farmer goaded the cattle (possibly literally), you've no case. – Tim Lymington Dec 31 '16 at 23:43

I suspect the answer may be similar to the common law rule for dog bites (which varies by jurisdiction). If so, it might matter whether the farmer had any prior warning that the particular animal was prone to misbehaving. If yes, he could be negligent for letting it go into a situation where property damage was more likely than with a typical cow. And if the farmer was doing anything out of the ordinary--such as prodding the animals in a way that caused them to act-up, that could make him liable too. On the other hand, the farmer would probably say you assumed the risk by traveling in farm country.

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  • While the farmer might say that, it's a risk created only by the farmer themselves, and doesn't preclude their liability. – Nij Dec 24 '16 at 23:38

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