Letter to the Pilot

Tuesday, August 26, 2003

A beef with the law


Reason #17 To Leave Iowa: This Can Happen To You!

Imagine a dark overcast summer night. It is a little after midnight and you are just about home after helping out at a public family-oriented event. You are on one of Iowa's many paved rural roads and you are driving with your usual care.

All of a sudden a large dark form is in front of you and you only have time to take your foot off the gas before you hit it! You have no idea what in the world has happened but your air bag has exploded and your car is careening into the ditch.

Your car finally stops, still running and luckily upright. You collect yourself enough to get out. However, the right side door is jammed and your passenger ends up having to crawl out the driver's door. You find the front and right side of your car have been badly smashed.

The sheriffs deputies arrive and cannot immediately figure out what happened. Remember it is a very dark night. Did you hit a deer? The deputies say no since the tufts of hair on your car are black. They investigate and guess what? You hit a Black Angus cow! And, your car is totaled!

At this point, since you seem to be okay, you begin to wonder what about your car. You no longer have transportation and you have to get to work. The deputies have told you that the owner of the cow is liable for damages since his cow was loose and on the roadway. You assume they are right (they if anybody should know the law) and that you will receive reimbursement and likely a rental car. Everyone you talk to agrees, including your attorney. The cow owner's insurance adjuster calls you in a couple days to get your account of the incident - no offer of a rental car. Then after checking with the cow owner and looking at his farm (three days after the cow got loose), the adjuster calls to inform you that they are denying the claim! The adjuster says that the farmer's fences are sound and no one knows how the cow got out so it is therefore not the cow owner's fault. The 1/2 ton animal must have "jumped the fence" (leaving no damage). The adjuster tells you that the Iowa law that had fixed liability on the stray animal's owner had been repealed by the Iowa Legislature. And, eventually after much research, your attorney confirms that!

There will be no rental car and the only way now to get any reimbursement for your $4000 car, for the storage, for towing or for legal consultation is to bring a lawsuit against the cow's owner.

However, your attorney says that to even think about a lawsuit you will have to come up with concrete evidence of negligence. You have no recourse! You are out your car plus expenses! If your dog got out and bit someone, you would be liable.

But if your cow, horse, pig, llama, buffalo, elk or emu (all of which you can see on farms near roadways in Iowa) should get out onto a public roadway and cause damage and you have made a reasonable and prudent attempt at fencing (or at least so it looks three days after the incident), you are not liable. Not even if a person is badly injured or worse yet killed. As you have guessed, the incident described actually happened - on July 6, 2003 in Hamilton County, Iowa. On August 7, our local newspaper reported two more unrelated incidents also in Hamilton County of vehicles striking cows. This can happen to you!

Mary Schaeffer-Losure