Wilmoth v. Hemric – Liability for Wandering Livestock on NC Roadways

In rural North Carolina, it can be a common site to encounter a deer or other large animal looming in the roadway. These animals do pose a danger to motorists, but in the event of a crash, usually the only option is to seek compensation from one’s own insurer. cattle.jpg

The exception to this is if that animal is owned as livestock by a nearby farmer or pet owner. The law in North Carolina holds animal owners have a duty to ensure those creatures do not wander off their property and onto neighboring roadways, resulting in a hazardous condition for nearby motorists.

Fact is, when motorists crash into these large animals, the result is not only thousands of dollars in property damage to the vehicle, but also often serious injuries to the driver and vehicle occupants.

However, liability is not conferred onto the animal owner unless plaintiff can show defendant negligently failed to secure livestock. That means proving the owner knew or should have known the animal was at risk of escaping and failed to take necessary measures to keep the animal from getting out and posing a danger to motorists.

Our Charlotte accident lawyers understand wandering livestock was at the core of a recent case before the North Carolina Court of Appeals, Wilmoth v. Hemric. Although the underlying claim involves an attack by wondering livestock, it’s believed the same animal caused a crash on a nearby roadway days later.

According to court records, plaintiff reported he was at his sister’s home in early July 2008 when he noticed two cows wearing purple identification tags in his sister’s yard sometime in late afternoon. He shooed them away to a wooded area nearby. Later in the evening, he returned, and as he was leaving, saw the same cow in the driveway. He went inside to retrieve his brother-in-law. The pair went back outside where they encountered the animal, which then charged and struck plaintiff, resulting in severe injuries to his back and legs.

While hospitalized, he learned the cows may belong to a nearby farmer and attempted to call him. Farmer did not answer, so plaintiff left a voicemail regarding the incident.

Less than two weeks later, a vehicle struck a cow near the same site, and this cow also had a purple tag. Plaintiff later identified it as the same cow. Plaintiff again called farmer to report both incidents.

Plaintiff filed a lawsuit alleging defendant failed to act as a reasonable and prudent person would in allowing cattle and/or livestock to roam from its pasture. A jury awarded him $350,000 in damages. Defendant sought a judgment notwithstanding verdict, but trial court denied.

However, appellate court reversed the jury’s verdict. The reason: in order to prove negligence in these cases, plaintiffs have to present evidence showing defendant’s animals were at-large with his or her knowledge and consent or as a result of negligence. This means showing certain reasonable precautionary measures were not taken: i.e., the fence was not properly maintained, a gate was left opened, the livestock was counted infrequently.

Plaintiff did not present enough evidence in this regard, appellate court found. There was no indication the owner knew the animals were missing prior to the attack, and plaintiff didn’t assert any specifics regarding defendant’s failures to prevent escape that justified the verdict.

Because these cases do require a heightened standard of proof, it’s imperative injured persons seek immediate legal counsel for advice on how to best proceed.

Contact the Carolina injury lawyers at the Lee Law Offices by calling 800-887-1965.

Additional Resources:
Wilmoth v. Hemric, Dec. 2, 2014, North Carolina Court of Appeals

More Blog Entries:
Travelers v. Harrington – Fighting Insurance Exclusions, Nov. 5, 2014, Charlotte Accident Lawyer Blog

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