Lose the Bull, Get the Horns: Liability for escaped livestock in Missouri

Price & Randle

A December 4, 2014 suit brought by a Missouri dairy farmer in Greene County resulted in a $1.8 million verdict against a neighboring rancher. The 43 year old farmer was trying to herd a runaway bull on his ATV, when he suffered severe injury including back injury and a torn meniscus in each knee. Fortunately for the bull’s owner, there was liability insurance provided by Farm Bureau of Missouri, and they will likely pay the entire judgment.

Liability for escaped or loose livestock is largely dictated by the Missouri Revised Statutes, Section 270.010.1. This statute makes it unlawful for any owner to permit their livestock to be at large outside of their enclosure. This imposes strict liability on the owners for any damages resulting the livestock. This can include damage to property such as other fencing and crops, and injury such as what happened to the dairy farmer mentioned above. The scenario seen most often by our office is when a cow or horse has escaped and is loose on a roadway. Striking a 1,500 pound animal with an automobile can result in severe injury or death to the occupants of that vehicle. What we often discover is that the animal’s owner has kept their fencing in poor repair or maintenance, and that it is not the first time that their animals have escaped. The owner would have the burden of showing that it was not their own negligence that allowed the animal or animals to escape.

In the case mentioned above, the dairy farmer was trying to contain a likely dangerous animal. As most farmers and ranchers know, an intact bull can be an unpredictable, dangerous creature. Even a dairy cow, when frightened or in an unfamiliar environment, can cause serious damage to life and property.

Missouri has 4.25 million cattle, 3 million hogs and pigs, 73,000 sheep, and 200,000 equine. Livestock outnumber the people in this state. It is important for owners of livestock to make sure that their fencing is in good repair, and that it is checked often. Separating a herding animal from others of its kind is a formula for trouble, as that animal is sure to test even the best of fences. Most importantly, livestock owners need to make sure that their liability insurance is sufficient to protect their personal assets from judgment. Missouri has 4.25 million cattle, 3 million hogs and pigs, 73,000 sheep, and 200,000 equine.

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