Who's liable for stock on a busy road?
We look at legal questions and issues for farmers - including who is liable if an accident happens when moving cattle on a road
Q: I am a dairy farmer in the unfortunate position that my milking platform is split by a national primary road. In order to keep the farm viable I have to use the lands on both sides of the road for grazing for a good part of the year. I have priced an underpass as I own the land on both sides of the road but the costs are prohibitive for me. I am always afraid of an accident on the road while my cows are crossing and I try to have a second person with me, however, this is not always possible. Where do I stand from a liability prospective if there was an accident?
A This query has come up time and again as farmers are faced with no choice but to continue the practice of crossing roads with cows despite increased volumes of traffic in recent years on many national primary routes.
It is essential to point out that the first step in protecting yourself from any kind of claim is to insure your stock against losses which could occur as a result of their actions.
You should inform your broker specifically if your stock cross the road as part of a twice daily ritual (even if only at certain times of the year) as this type of cover may differ from a farmer who only needs to insure against losses caused by stock that 'break out' onto the road. Bearing in mind the importance of this, it is always better to plan to prevent an accident occurring.
In this regard it is certainly worth having more than one person involved in the crossing of the animals. The test which the court ordinarily applies, when deciding if someone acted appropriately or not, is whether they took reasonable care for the safety of those road users that might be affected.
Depending on the number of animals being moved and the nature of the animals (e.g. are the animals used to crossing the road or not) it is likely that a court would consider one person inadequate to move animals if an accident were to occur in the course of the moving, particularly if an accident is as a result of the animals escaping.
I know that you have considered an underpass and these are obviously very expensive installations even where the local authority/roads authority are willing.