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I Just Hit a Cow, am I Covered?

Cows grazing near the roadImagine you are driving down the road and out of nowhere a deer sprints out of the woods and into your car. This actually happens quite often, while nationwide statistics are not available, in 2010 experts estimate that 30,866 deer were hit by cars in New Jersey alone.

Now imagine that instead of deer, the animal you hit is a cow or a horse that has gotten loose from a nearby farm. While a deer will certainly damage your vehicle, having a collision with a horse will put some serious dents in your car.

So who is responsible for the damage when a farm animal wanders onto the highway? As with most things insurance related, the answer will vary depending on the state that you live in. 

The Basics

The first problem you are going to have is finding the owner of the animal. A horse can wander for miles if it is running loose. The police can help in these types of situations, running hair samples on the animal, of course not all police departments are willing to go the extra mile. In the majority of cases, the easiest solution is to make a claim against your own insurance.

In order to file an insurance claim on this type of accident you will have to carry comprehensive coverage which protects your car when it is damaged by animals, flood, fire and other incidents that do not involve a collision with another vehicle. If you are only carrying liability coverage you will need to track down the owner of the animal because your insurer is not going to pay for the damage.

While it can vary by insurer, the majority will cover damage from animals such as deer, elk, dogs, birds, horses and cows. Even if you are carrying comprehensive you are still going to be spending some money, as you will be responsible for your deductible. Hopefully, your insurance company will be able to track down the owner and recover the cost of your deductible if it is determined that the owner was at fault.

You Could End Up Paying for the Cow

Cows Crossing the RoadWhether or not the animal owner is liable depends on what state you are driving in when the accident happens. In most states, if the owner knowingly let the horse out onto the road they will be held liable for the accident and the damage done to your car.

If the horse got loose unbeknownst to the owner due to a vandalized fence or even a prank there is a good chance that the owner will not be held responsible for the accident.  The state the accident happened in will also affect the outcome. A number of western states still have free or open range laws that let both farm and domestic animals roam freely. While some laws have been updated to keep animals off the roads, others still allow free roaming just about anywhere. 

If you end up in a completely free roaming state, it is possible that you could be found liable for the cost of the animal. States that have updated their laws, such as Texas give immunity to drivers who kill or injury animals that are on the highway or roads.

Your Insurer Should Step Up

These types of claims tend to be complicated so filing with your insurer and letting them do the legwork to determine fault and liability is usually the best way to handle a farm animal accident. Your adjuster should be able to track down the owner, investigate local laws and assign fault. If you are found not at fault the animal owner should cover your deductible.

In most cases a comprehensive claim will not raise your rates. If your rates are raised consider shopping around for a new policy.