What to Do if You Accidentally Hit an Animal with Your Car

Many parts of Utah are rural and sparsely populated, so unless you stick to the big cities, you’re bound to eventually encounter an animal while driving.  Hopefully, the animal will keep a safe distance, but sometimes, collisions are unavoidable.  In fact, according to the Department of Public Safety, animals caused more than 3,000 car accidents in Utah last year.  The question is, what should you do if you’re ever in a car crash that’s caused by an animal?  Salt Lake City car accident lawyer Darwin Overson goes over the steps you should take after a collision with an animal, and discusses whether it’s possible to get compensated for animal-related injuries or damage to your vehicle.

What Should You Do if You Hit an Animal While Driving?

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In 2015, Utah counties reported anywhere from 15 to 332 animal-related crashes.  Collisions with animals are an unfortunate reality of the road for drivers in Utah, especially in the southeastern part of the state, where animal accidents accounted for roughly half of all crashes.  For example, in San Juan County, nearly 54% of crashes involved an animal.

As a driver, your first step after a collision with an animal – or, for that matter, any type of car accident – is to make sure that the occupants of your vehicle (and any other vehicle involved) are safe.  You should immediately call 9-1-1 if anyone has been injured, and, if it is possible to do so safely, move your vehicle to the side of the road where it will not obstruct traffic.  Be sure to put on your hazard lights and stay far away from traffic.  It is very difficult for fast-moving drivers on the highway to see a person standing at the edge of the road, especially in low light or poor weather conditions.  Try to take as many pictures of the damage as possible, as photos can be very valuable evidence; but do not place yourself in danger in order to do so.

If the animal is still alive, be sure to keep a safe distance.  It is likely to be extremely agitated and terrified, which can cause it to act out by biting, scratching, or kicking defensively.  Even a “harmless” animal like a deer can deliver a powerful blow with its hooves.  Do not, under any circumstances, attempt to wrangle an injured animal into your vehicle.  Watching an animal suffer is gut-wrenching, but you need to be mindful of your own safety.  Let the authorities deal with transporting or removing the animal: they have the training and equipment to do so safely.

Once you have moved to a safe location and called for medical help as necessary, you should call the local police department or sheriff’s office, not only for the assistance they can provide in terms of animal control, but also in order to formally report the accident.  An accident report is very important for two reasons:

  1. The report can help bolster the strength of an insurance claim.
  2. If anyone was injured or killed, you are required by law to report the accident to the police.  Failure to do so can cause you to be criminally charged with a misdemeanor or even felony, depending on the situation.

Are Ranchers Liable for Auto Accidents Caused by Livestock in Utah?

Property damage only needs to be reported to the police if you damaged another person’s vehicle or property.  So how does that translate to livestock?  Are you at fault for damaging another person’s property, or are they at fault because their property caused an accident?

Utah Code § 41-6a-407, which is part of Utah’s motor vehicle code as it pertains to responsibilities after an accident, can shed some light on this question.  Utah Code § 41-6a-407(1)(a) clearly states the following:

“A person who owns or is in possession or control of any livestock may not willfully or negligently permit any of the livestock to stray or remain unaccompanied on a highway, if both sides of the highway are separated from adjoining property by a fence, wall, hedge, sidewalk, curb, lawn, or building.”

In other words, a rancher or other person who owns or controls livestock is prohibited from intentionally or even carelessly allowing their animals to wander around a highway, assuming the highway has the fencing, walls, or other partitions described by the statute.  However, the statute goes on to make an important distinction: the above does not apply in situations where livestock “drift[s] onto any highway [while] moving to or from their accustomed ranges.”

Nonetheless, there are restrictions on how and when ranchers and others may move their livestock from place to place.  Unless the person moving the livestock has set up enough lights and herders to keep the road safely open for vehicular passage, he or she “may not drive any livestock upon, over, or across any highway during the period from half an hour after sunset to half an hour before sunrise.”

In terms of accident claims and compensation, the most important part of the statute is Utah Code § 41-6a-407(4), which provides the following:

“In any civil action brought for damages caused by collision with any domestic animal or livestock on a highway, there is no presumption that the collision was due to negligence on behalf of the owner or the person in possession of the domestic animal or livestock.”

In other words, courts and insurance companies will not assume that your collision was caused by the negligence of a rancher, herder, or so forth.  You will need to present evidence to prove that negligence caused your accident if you intend to pursue compensation from a third party, which an experienced car or truck accident lawyer in Utah can assist you with.  Each accident must be evaluated on a case-by-case basis to determine if it was caused by the negligence of another individual.  (An attorney is especially important if a rancher or other livestock owner tries to sue you.)

So what about filing a first-party claim with your own insurance company?  Are animal collisions covered by car insurance?

Does Car Insurance Cover Vehicle Damage Caused by Collisions with Animals?

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We hate to be the bearer of bad news, but collision coverage does not cover collisions with animals.  Even though hitting an animal is technically a collision, collision coverage only applies to collisions between vehicles – for example, if you were in an intersection accident.

Fortunately, there’s also some good news: while collision coverage comes up short, comprehensive coverage can step in to cover some of your expenses.  Though the exact wording of policies varies from company to company, comprehensive coverage – which, aptly, is also called other-than-collision (OTC) coverage – generally provides coverage for damage from accidents caused by:

  • Animal collisions
  • Falling branches, tree limbs, and trees
  • Fire
  • Theft
  • Vandalism
  • Water damage

Unlike liability insurance, which helps pay for injuries, wrongful death, and/or property damage to other people if you ever cause a car accident, comprehensive coverage is not mandatory in the state of Utah.  Some motorists view comprehensive coverage as a waste of money, while others see it as worthwhile.  Ultimately, the decision to purchase or forego comprehensive coverage is up to you; but if you live in an area where you frequently see wild or domesticated animals wandering around near the roads, it may be a good idea to purchase, just in case – especially if you are concerned about the possibility of theft, vandalism, or the other sources of damage that are also covered by comprehensive coverage.

Keep in mind that animal collisions are fairly common in Utah.  On average, animals caused about 10 accidents every day of 2015, or about one accident every other hour.  The vast majority of these accidents – just over 3,000 – resulted in property damage.  Depending on where you live, how often you drive, and how you feel about Utah’s animal crash statistics, comprehensive coverage may be a desirable addition to your auto insurance policy.

If you have comprehensive coverage and accidentally hit an animal, your insurance company should help cover your vehicle repair expenses, minus the amount of your deductible.  For a bit of financial context, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, Highway Loss Data Institute (HLDI), “The average cost of an animal-strike claim under comprehensive coverage for 2001-14 models during calendar years 2004-13 was $2,730.  That’s a hefty price but still lower than the average payout of $3,510 for a collision claim, HLDI found.”

Interestingly, HLDI also found that certain types of vehicles tended to have higher losses than others when an accident with an animal occurred.  According to HLDI data, “The Hyundai Elantra GT… had the highest animal-strike overall losses at more than twice the all-passenger vehicle average.  Next worst was the Toyota Prius c hybrid small car.”  So, if you happen to drive a Hyundai Elantra GT, a Toyota Prius c, or a similar vehicle, you may want to think seriously about purchasing comprehensive coverage in case you ever have an animal accident.  Of course, no matter what type of vehicle you own, it’s better to safe than sorry.

Injured in a Crash with a Deer or Cow? Contact a Salt Lake City Car Accident Attorney

If you or someone you love was injured in a car accident that was caused by a collision with an animal – or, for that matter, a collision with another driver – you may be able to get compensated with help from an experienced Summit County car accident attorney, like Darwin Overson of Overson & Sheen.

Darwin Overson has over 33 years of experience handling a wide variety of auto accident claims, including first-party and third-party insurance claims involving vehicle damage, whiplash injuries, spinal cord injuries, brain injuries, and many other types of injuries.  He handles cases throughout the state of Utah, and provides free initial consultations.  To set up your free legal consultation, call the law offices of Overson & Sheen at (801) 895-3143 today.

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