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Bob owns and lives on a piece of land adjoining another, vacant one owned by Alice. There is a sheep fence between them which Bob has installed at his own expense (even though he legally could demand Alice to contribute).

There is Rob who owns some cattle and Alice allows him to graze them on her land, despite that they know the fence won't necessarily keep the cattle in.

One day one Rob's bull breaks the fence and makes his way onto Bob's land, causing some other minor damage too.

Who is responsible for the fence and other damage caused by the bull? Alice? Rob? Both?

Would the answer change if Rob was a close relative to Alice e.g. her adult son?

  • The bull is, obviously. Bad bull, no hay! – Dale M Aug 24 at 5:59
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    In the U.S. there is a distinction between fence out and fence in states. I don't know where NZ falls on that question. – ohwilleke Aug 24 at 21:31
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    @ohwilleke I should have mentioned we're talking about an urban area where animal owners are responsible to keep them in, otherwise animal control will take care of them (slaughter). – Greendrake Aug 24 at 22:39
  • @Justaguy I know that answers the question where the animal owner and the land owner where the animals are supposed to stay is the same person. I am not so sure where they are different persons. It could be that the onus to keep them in is on the land owner: if the animals can't be kept in, the land owner should never allow the animal owner to graze them. – Greendrake Aug 25 at 7:07
  • @Greendrake Got it! I will go ahead and erase my comment, since it adds nothing. – Just a guy Aug 25 at 7:33
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Rob is responsible. No Bull!

Around the world, the law of wandering cattle depends on the details. New Zealand is no different.

This case is covered by s 26 of the Impounding Act of 1955, Damages for Trespass. As you said, S 26(1)(d) says Bob is entitled to damages whenever his "land (whether fenced or unfenced) is situated in a city." This is different to the rest of the country, where animals must be fenced out.

S 26(2) of the Impounding Act says the damage is owed by Rob, as the owner of the stock:

(2) In any case where damages are payable under this section the amount of any damage shall be recoverable by action from the owner of the stock.

It may be that Rob and Alice have some arrangement that Alice will indemnify Rob against any trespass damages. But that agreement does not change the underlying law; it only allows him to recoup his loses (by suing his mother, if necessary!).

Added: Something fun to read

Law professor Robert Ellickson studied how people actually resolve disputes over wandering cattle in Shasta county in northern California. There's a readable summary of what he found here. (The title of his book, "Order without law," sums up his main finding -- there are rules that are enforced, but those rules have little to do with the formal law or law enforcement.)

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