deer infront of a car

Who is Liable When a Car Accident is Caused by an Animal? 

Downs, McDonough, Cowan & Foley Aug. 30, 2022

The animal surely can’t be held responsible or sued for damages, but if there is a negligent owner who allowed the animal to roam freely, that person may be held liable. Likewise, if the driver of the vehicle was speeding or otherwise breaking the law, the driver’s negligence could be assessed to determine fault. The common denominator is not always easy to determine fault in an accident with an animal.  

In Colorado, as in many states, animals like deer, squirrels, and foxes often roam freely. They don’t check both ways before crossing a road and certainly are not responsible for obeying any traffic laws. Nor do they have an owner who can be held liable for the injuries and damages sustained by a vehicle operator.  

Pets or farm animals are another story. Their owners are expected to keep them in safe environs and prevent them from roaming free, so they may be held liable. However, even here, there is a grey area provided the owner has made reasonable efforts to ensure their animals’ safety. Those reasonable efforts may be enough to clear the owner of negligence.  

If you’ve been injured and your vehicle damaged in an accident with an animal in or around Durango, Colorado, contact the car accident/personal injury attorneys at Downs, McDonough, Cowan & Foley, LLC. We will help you navigate the process of assigning fault and making a claim against an owner or with your own insurance company if the fault is the animals.  

We also proudly serve clients in and around Telluride, Pagosa Springs, Cortez, and The Four Corners, Colorado. 

Common Accidents with Animals 

One popular conception of an animal accident is probably that of a deer darting in front of your car and you hit it. While this may be the classic example of an animal traffic nightmare, it’s certainly not the only one, though it can be used to illustrate liability.  

Generally, if the deer appears in front of your vehicle and it’s too late to do anything but slam on your breaks, then it’s probably going to be a case of filing a claim against your insurance company. But even then, unless you have collision or comprehensive coverage, the insurer will not likely honor your claim. If you just have basic liability coverage, you, your passengers, and your vehicle are not covered.  

Now, let’s assume you’re speeding when the deer enters the roadway, or you’re distracted by text messages and don’t even see the animal. This becomes a different story altogether. You could now be found liable for breaking the law that led to the accident. The basic legal standard is that the negligent party can be held liable.  

Now, let’s change the animal to a cow that belongs to a farm near the road you’re traveling. The cow enters the roadway, and you strike it. The cow’s owner is likely responsible if that person failed to exercise adequate safety and animal enclosure measures. Again, if you are the driver breaking the law, the liability could shift back to you.   

The same can be said if you run into a dog on the loose. The dog’s owner is responsible for keeping the pet safe and secure and could be liable if they didn’t do so. Again, if you’re breaking the law, the liability could be yours. The pet owner might avoid liability if they took the proper measures of securing their pet, but the pet got loose anyway. 

Making a Claim 

If the farm operator or pet owner is deemed liable for the accident, their property, renters, or liability insurance can be used to make a claim. These policies usually cover animal accidents. If there is no insurance, a personal injury lawsuit may need to be filed.  

If you’re at fault, or the animal in question was just a wild one with no owner, then you must rely on your own automobile insurance. Note again, however, that a basic liability insurance policy will not honor a claim for personal injuries or property damage. For that, you need either collision or comprehensive coverage. 

Turn to Dependable Representation 

We at Downs, McDonough, Cowan & Foley, LLC have experience in all varieties of vehicle accidents and claims. In a collision with an animal, the biggest challenge is determining whose negligence caused the accident – yours, the animal’s owner, or nobody’s since the animal was one of the wild.  

Our attorneys can help you determine fault and then help you seek compensation for any damages or injuries you and your passengers suffered.  

If you’ve been injured and/or your car damaged in an animal accident in or around Durango, Colorado, contact us at Downs, McDonough, Cowan & Foley, LLC immediately. We have the knowledge and insight that other firms lack. Also, your first consultation is free. We proudly serve clients in Durango, Telluride, Pagosa Springs, Cortez, and The Four Corners, Colorado.