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Court Holds Cattle Owner Not Liable for Personal Injuries Arising From Loose Cattle

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Liza C. Moore
Foster Swift Agricultural Law News
September 29, 2015

This summer the Michigan Court of Appeals held that a plaintiff did not establish that a defendant owed the plaintiff a duty when he was injured by the defendant’s loose cattle. In Whitby v Wright, a man driving early in the morning hit some cattle on the road with his car. The man knocked on the plaintiff’s door. The plaintiff then went outside and determined that the cattle involved belonged to the defendant. The plaintiff tried to get the cattle to go back into the defendant’s pasture; one of the animals charged him and injured him. The Black Angus cattle had been in a pasture with a five-strand electric fence and double gate. When a police officer came to speak to the defendant after the incident, the defendant discovered the gate had been knocked down and the cattle were out.  He thought coyotes scared the cattle since he had lost calves to coyotes before. The plaintiff sued the defendant for negligence and for a claim under the Animals Running at Large Act, MCL 433.12, which prohibits letting animals run at large. The trial court granted summary disposition in favor of the defendant because there was no evidence he was negligent and the Animals Running At Large Act did not impose liability for personal injuries. The Court of Appeals affirmed. The plaintiff did not present sufficient evidence that the defendant breached his duty to use ordinary care to fence in his cattle. The Animals Running At Large Act provides for civil liability for property damage arising from loose livestock (MCL 433.13), but not civil liability for personal injury damages.