Serious road traffic accidents involving horses take place on American roads every year. Horses will often wander away from a paddock in search of food, or a rider may take an unnecessary risk, and the resulting collision can often kill humans and animals alike. While the circumstances of each accident will vary considerably, it's often difficult to establish who caused the incident, and complex legal cases can sometimes take place. If your car has collided with a horse, learn more about how the law treats horses and drivers, and find out how you can prove who was liable for the accident.
State laws concerning horses and motor vehicles
Many states have laws covering horses, and motor vehicles. In many states, the law says that drivers must approach horses carefully, and you should take whatever steps necessary to make sure you don't frighten the animal. These steps could include slowing down, moving out to pass the horse and rider and driving calmly and quietly until out of earshot of the animal.
In most states, horses have the same rights as any vehicle on the road, but their riders must also observe the same rules as a driver. While a horse is not able to go as fast as a car, this means the rider must observe traffic signals, lane markings and other road laws. Some states don't actually define the rights of horses and rider, and one state (Louisiana) bans horses from paved roads.
Other states have laws that prohibit certain equestrian activities on the highway. For example, many states ban horse riders at night. In other states, you can't ride a horse on an interstate highway at all. Riders must also ride in a sensible manner, and several state laws prohibit reckless riding or racing.
In nearly all states, horse riders must ride on the right-hand side of the road, going with the flow of traffic.
Liability in an auto-horse collision
A court could hold any party involved in a collision liable for the accident, and you will need to prove who was negligent. Even if a horse rider breaks a traffic law, you will need evicence to help an insurance company or law court reach this decision.
You can often get the information you need from a police report. The police officer will sometimes clearly state which party he thinks caused the accident, or the report may simply mention negligent behavior. For example, if the horse rider was on the wrong side of the road, you're likely to have a strong case. If you are unfamiliar with road laws in your state, a law library can help you research the details.
Never leave the scene of a collision and always wait for the police to arrive. A court may rule against a driver who leaves the accident. In 2010, a court in Jefferson County found a truck driver liable for a woman's injuries, when her car struck the body of a horse that the truck driver had killed. The court ruled against the trucker because he had left the scene of the accident and failed to alert other motorists to the hazard.
Proving negligence for a horse that roams free
Horses are sometimes involved in road accidents when they roam free from their normal enclosure. In many cases, the animal panics and runs into and collides with a car. That aside, a court will only find the horse's owner liable for the accident if the driver can prove negligence.
State laws normally treat horses as domestic animals, which means that the owner has a duty of ordinary care. If the horse causes an accident on a public highway, the law does not normally immediately place liability on the owner. A court will consider:
- How the horse got on the highway
- Any state and local fencing and livestock controls
- If the owner knew the horse was likely to get loose
It's often difficult to prove exactly how the horse escaped. In this case, most states place the burden on the driver to offer proof. As such, you may also need to show that the fencing for the animal was inadequate.
When it comes to proving liability, auto accidents involving horses can present complex legal scenarios. If your car has collided with a horse, you should consult a trained auto accident attorney as soon as possible. Check out sites like http://www.lvaccident.com for more information.