One Injured in Crash with Cow on TX-79 in Rusk County
Rusk County, TX -- January 28, 2022, one person was injured during a pair of accidents caused by a cow in the road on State Highway 79 in Rusk County.
Authorities say the incidents occurred Friday night along TX-709 near the Rusk/Panola County line. Preliminary investigation suggests a cow exited a nearby pasture onto the roadway where a small car collided with it and an SUV crashed nearby while swerving to avoid it.
Three people involved in the crashes were transported to local hospitals. Reports indicate only one of them was found to have injuries.
No further information is currently available.
Commentary on Livestock Accident on TX-79 in Rusk County
As a big cattle state Texas has quite a few livestock-related laws. Rusk County's statutes about loose cows are most likely similar to those of other towns and counties where a driver could find one in their path. Whether or not a local farmer or rancher could face charges isn't really my place to remark upon, but what does civil law say about these situations?
Generally speaking the law regards livestock as chattel, or non-land property, so allowing a cow to stand in the road is like leaving a boat there: It's big, it's heavy, it definitely doesn't belong there, and hitting it will likely cause problems.
Leaving that boat in the road would obviously be negligent on its owner's part. If that negligence hurts someone else, the law permits the injured victims to hold the owner liable. The same is true when farmers or ranchers let their animals roam off their property: As we see in this unfortunate incident, cows wandering into the road are enough to seriously interrupt traffic, and that's something their owner shoulder answer for.
However, there are some limitations to that liability. This part of the law doesn't come up often, but the gist is pretty simple: Livestock owners aren't responsible for animals doing typical animal things, like wandering around. What the owners are responsible for is limiting how far wandering critters can go. They build walls, barns, fences, corrals, and whatever else to keep their animals from roaming too freely, but time and weather and other things can sometimes damage those barriers. For instance, if an overnight storm destroys a fence and some animals wander away, the owner likely couldn't have stopped that in time to prevent whatever damage the livestock goes on to cause. However, if the owner left a gate open or failed to fix a fence they knew was damaged, then the failure to remedy the problem would be considered negligent. In those cases, victims hurt by that negligence could hold the owner accountable in court.
Right now there are several unanswered questions about this crash, including how long the cow was loose, where it came from, how it got out, whether that was something its owner should have handled already, how fast the vehicles were traveling, if the drivers were acting in all ways as a reasonably prudent person would, and many others. The simple narrative of "car hits cow" barely scratches the surface of everything needed to make sure the right parties are held properly accountable. In the meantime, it won't hurt anyone to know a little more about their rights in case they ever come across a few hundred pounds of beef in their way.