Who is responsible if I hit a horse in my car?

Question: I was driving down the road about a month ago and I hit a horse. I wasn’t hurt but my car was damaged. Is the owner of the horse responsible for fixing my car?

Answer: You’re not the first person who has asked me this question in the past few months.  I guess it’s been a bad year for horses and cattle around here. Under Alabama law the owner of the horse is not responsible for damages to your vehicle or injuries that you suffered unless he or she intentionally placed the horse on the roadway.  Also, the fact that the owner may not have maintained or repaired his or her fences properly is not enough to show intent.

Although Alabama Code section 3-5-3 does make the owner of livestock responsible if it eats someone’s crops, trees, shrubs or flowers, that section gives the owner immunity if the animal is struck by a vehicle.  This law was passed in 1939 when Alabama’s economy was largely agricultural and the communities were more rural than they are now.  By looking at the legislative history of this statute it is clear that the legislature intended to “protect livestock owners from liability in rural areas where livestock is concentrated and the probability that stock could get on to the highways was prevalent.”  It makes sense that the legislature would want to protect the people who are raising our food supply from urban expansion and automobile traffic in rural areas.

There is at least one very narrow exception to this law that I am aware of so you might want to talk with an attorney about your specific case.  Also, it goes to show you again how important it is to make sure that you protect yourself by carrying full coverage insurance that includes property damage and uninsured motorist benefits.

The next time you pass a horse or cattle farm when you’re on the road, especially at night, keep an eye out for Bessie or Mr. Ed because you’re responsible for your own damages.

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