Texas is home to nearly 250,000 farms and ranches, which spread over an area of more than 130 million acres. Many farm owners keep livestock on their land, and, unfortunately, these animals will sometimes stray onto roads, leading to accidents that can lead to potentially devastating consequences. If your you collide with a farm animal while driving in Texas, you will want to consider the action you can take against the animal's owner. Find out how fence laws can affect a farmer's liability for a car accident, and learn how an attorney can help you navigate these laws.
About open range states
Texan law generally designates Texas as an open range (or fence out) state. In simple terms, this means that livestock owners have no legal duty to prevent their animals getting onto public roads and highways. This law came about over a century ago, when the Texas Supreme Court upheld a landowner's right to allow his or her animals to run large. Even as recently as 1999, the Supreme Court has refused to adopt a common law that would change this ruling.
Nonetheless, there are important exceptions to this law that can affect many parts of the state.
How closed range laws can work in Texas
The principle of an open range law may suit farmers, but the consequences for other land users are often unacceptable. For example, if a farmer's animals roam freely on a neighbor's land, the livestock could cause considerable damage. Because of this, Texan law allows counties to change the open range law to a stock (or closed range) law, and livestock owners must make sure their animals cannot roam freely.
Stock laws can come about where local voters request and support them. Due to this, many counties within Texas uphold these laws. In real terms, this means you could drive a short distance from an area that upholds open range laws only to quickly enter an area where closed range laws apply.
To complicate things further, counties can enact specific clauses within their closed range laws. For example, one county may insist that sheep farmers contain their animals, while another county may only insist on appropriate fencing around horses.
Protection on highways
Farmers and other livestock owners cannot allow their animals to roam freely on public or state highways, due to the high risk that they will cause an accident. This state statute applies in every county, irrespective of whether the open range law applies elsewhere, and on every US or state highway that runs through Texas.
Farm-to-market roads are state or county roads that link agricultural areas to market towns. Texas introduced a network of these roads in 1949 to improve state transportation efficiency. These roads are usually numbered highways, which may include stretches of freeway. Under Texan law, all farm-to-market roads are open range, unless they run through a county that has adopted closed range laws.
Why you may need a car accident attorney
A car accident attorney can help you navigate these complex laws. If your car hits livestock on the road, you may need to take out a lawsuit against the animal's owner to recover the cost of damage to your car and any animal expenses, and your attorney will need to review the situation carefully to establish liability.
This task is seldom easy. For example, it's difficult to find out where counties operate under closed range laws because there are no central records of these laws. Your attorney will probably have to consult local officials and other documentation to establish this status. What's more, the site of your accident could cross different counties, further complicating the outcome.
Your attorney will also have to prove that the landowner permitted animals to run free. A court will look for evidence of negligence to uphold this claim. For example, if the farmer has a fence and leaves the gate open, a court may decide he or she is negligent. Your attorney may also need to prove that the fences weren't strong or high enough for the animals concerned.
Fence laws in Texas may influence liability if your car hits livestock on the road. Talk to a car accident attorney like Todd East Attorney at Law for more help and information.