When Cows Go Bad

It is said that when dog bites man, that is not news, but when man bites dog, that is news. What about when cow collides with car? Well, it was news in New York recently, putting a new spin on animal-related personal injury claims.

According to the complaint filed in Hastings v. Sauve, a motorist was injured when her car collided with a cow that had wandered off a nearby farm onto a county road in the middle of the night. The injured driver sued the operators of the farm, alleging that their negligence in failing to properly restrain the cow caused her injury.  The plaintiff’s problem was that according to New York law, a cow is a domestic animal, and claims involving injuries inflicted by domestic animals require the plaintiff to prove that the animal had vicious propensities that were known to its owners — a typical tenet of dog-bite claims. Presumably, however, old Bessie had heretofore been a well-behaved bovine, showing no signs of deep-seated cow aggression — or at least, there was no evidence the plaintiff could have produced to prove the cow had a demonstrated dark side.

The court granted the defendant’s motion to dismiss the case, and the plaintiff appealed. The appellate court upheld the dismissal of the case. But in an unusual man-bites-dog move, the appellate court complained vehemently about the law in its decision. Saying it had upheld the dismissal reluctantly because it was obligated to adhere to the domestic animal rule despite the facts of this case, the court essentially asserted that when it comes to cows the domestic animal rule is, well, bull.

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