On 19 February 2019, the Sydney Morning Herald reported a motorcycle accident caused by animals on the road at Eltham Road near Lismore. The accident was described as a ‘freak collision’ between a motorcyclist and a cow although little more is known other than both the motor cyclist and the cow died in the collision. The photograph accompanying the story shows other cows in a paddock next to the road.

The facts of that accident prompt the question, who is liable when an accident occurs on a road involving a farm animal such as a cow or sheep?

Animals accidentally on the road

The owner of the land and the keeper of the livestock have a responsibility to keep livestock in the paddock and off the road which means making sure fences are an appropriate height, are well maintained and that gates are closed (and preferably locked if they front a main road). Farmers should regularly inspect the boundaries of the property and keep an eye out for stray stock.

Livestock are usually tagged or branded and if a collision occurs and the animal is killed or injured identifying the owner is often straightforward. How the animal escaped will need to be determined but the principle of res ipsa loquitor (the thing speaks for itself) might apply because domesticated and farm animals should not ordinarily be roaming the roads.

Animals escorted on the road

Animals can also be on the road deliberately. Long before b-double cattle trucks were invented, the only way to move cattle was to walk them from place to place (‘droving’ for you city slickers). In the 1920s my husband’s grandfather Rudolf Schmidt drove 1,000 beef cattle from the Alroy Downs Station in the Northern Territory 2,000 kms to Cunamulla in Queensland. Not a single beast was lost and in fact they picked up a cleanskin (unbranded therefore deemed unowned) along the way.

Drovers on horseback with their trusty work dogs still escort animals from properties to sale yards or during drought they might take a mob along the side of the road or over government owned stock routes looking for feed. Livestock owners may own a property which straddles a road and may need to move animals from one side of their property to another. To do any of these things the farmer will need to apply for one of four types of stock permits under the Local Land Services Act 2013:

  • walking stock permit
  • grazing stock permit
  • roadside grazing stock permit
  • routine stock movement permit

Moving stock along or over a road requires care and a degree of vigilance. Farmers must erect signage before and after the mob of cattle or sheep being moved to warn of animals on the road. They may be restricted to moving their livestock at certain times of the day and might be required to secure them overnight with portable electric fences or similar.

Driving in the country also requires care and vigilance. Animals cannot be expected to keep a proper lookout and understand the road rules. They may be skittish and frightened of the loud noises emitted by your car and they can turn sharply and suddenly into your path. If you see a mob of sheep or cattle on or along the side of the road, slow down. If you spot a stray cow on the wrong side of the fence, slow down so that you can safely stop if something untoward happens.

The NSW Government’s motor accident injuries scheme provides income support and treatment and care benefits to people injured in a motor vehicle accident involved in a collision with animals on the road. The family of the motor cyclist who died near Lismore would be entitled to claim the reasonable costs of the funeral without having to prove how the accident happened and who (or what) caused it. Someone injured in an accident caused by a stray cow or sheep would be entitled to claim at least 26 weeks’ worth of treatment, care and lost income support and may also have a claim for lump sum damages against the property or livestock owner.

If you or anyone you know is injured has been injured in a car accident, you may be entitled to compensation. For more information, and to arrange a free, no-obligation assessment of your claim, please call Stacks Goudkamp on 1800 46 2359, or alternatively make an online enquiry