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Thursday 14 December 2017

Legal Advice: My neighbour's cows damaged my car, should he pay for the repairs?

Our resident solicitor tackles this issue

Is a farmer responsible for his cows on a public road?
Is a farmer responsible for his cows on a public road?

Dear Karen,

A local dairy farmer moves his cows down the road from the field to his milking parlour twice a day. Not only does it add a lot of muck to the road but there is no fencing or rope put across the road when he does this.The cows have to walk about 200 metres down the road each way before and after milking and I have been caught up in the herd with my car a few times on the way past.

One of the cows took the wing mirror off my car recently and I said to the farmer when he was herding the cows that it was ok. But now I’ve got the quote for getting the wing mirror fixed and it is €250. I don’t think I should have to pay this. Is the farmer not responsible for his cows on a public road?

Dear Reader,

Unfortunately, incidents like this occur and I am sorry to hear about it. It can be difficult for farmers and other rural dwellers where road space has to be shared and mutual understanding of each other is vital in that regard and very much forms part of rural living.

In principle, the animal owner is entitled to drive his animals on the roadway, but reasonable care must be taken by the controller of the animals to prevent them from causing injury or damage. The animals must be driven in an orderly fashion and the owner has to take care and precaution in doing so. The farmer has a duty to control the animals while they are travelling on the roadway.

The farmer also has to ensure the orderly movement of the animals and be aware of other road users and that adequate signage and safety procedures are followed. The vehicle driver who is overtaking animals must also take all necessary precautions. The Rules of the Road set out these obligations for both those persons driving animals and other road users

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There may be an issue in relation to putting a fence or a rope across a roadway given the danger and impeding other road users. Certainly, signage, lighting (in the event that it is dark), high visibility clothing and other measures ought to be taken.

It is very unfortunate that the animals create muck on the road and that is a matter for the farmer to make an effort to clean the roadway. Local Authorities may have specific rules dealing with this and again an obligation as to reasonable care applies.  

Most farmers ought to be insured for the risk of damage being done by their animals and in the event that they are insured then a claim may be made but given the amount of money involved, it may be below the excess in which case the farmer is liable for the damage.

The established principle within the law and used by the courts in relation to the driving of cattle on the road is that the cattle owner will only be liable for the damage caused if they are in some way negligent in the course of driving the cattle.

The principle here is that it is the responsibility of the owner of the animals who are being driven on the public highway for the driving of those animals. However, if, in the event that the damage is done by the cattle on the public highway, then you would have to prove negligence on the part of the animals’ owner.

Broken Wing Mirror

You say that one of the cows broke a wing mirror on your car. The basic premise of the law of negligence and nuisance apply to liability on the part of the animal owner and that means that if somebody’s animal does damage to your property, then if you can establish the negligence, it is the case then it would be up to the animal owner to prove that he had taken every precaution necessary.

In many cases where an accident occurs, once a driver can show that an animal was not properly controlled on the road, the onus will fall on the farmer to show that the animal was properly controlled. There are a number of factors which will influence the safety of animals on a roadway, many of which will be beyond the control of the animal owner.

To the extent that the wing mirror was damaged and cost €250.00 to repair, it would be best to approach the animal owner and present him with the bill for the damage and the repair and ask him to pay it, or make a claim on his insurance, if applicable.

If he refuses to pay, then a claim would have to be made in negligence for property damage. There is a cost-effective manner of doing so and remember that the Small Claims Court (an Office within the District Court which does not necessitate a formal Court process and associated legal fees) allows for a paper application, together with a small fee for a claimant to make a claim up to a limit of €2,000.00 and this may be done by yourself. The procedure and forms are available online at courts.ie.   

Also remember that rural life entails a sharing of space with farmers, animals and other dwellers and that harmony between the diverse community means that certain sacrifices have to be made at times. Don’t forget that the road user has obligations to the animal owner too and it is not easy for farmers managing livestock across various parcels of land.

Karen Walsh, of Walsh & Partners, Solicitors, comes from a farming background and is a solicitor specialising in agricultural law, land law and renewable energy and is author of ‘Farming and the Law’ available from www.claruspress.ie. The firm also specialises in personal injuries, employment law and family law. She has offices in Dublin and Cork. For further information please contact 01-602000 or 021-4270200. 

Email: info@walshandpartners.ie

Web: www.walshandpartners.ie

Disclaimer: While every care is taken to ensure accuracy of information contained in this article, Solicitor Karen Walsh does not accept responsibility for errors or omissions howsoever arising, and you should seek legal advice in relation to your particular circumstances at the earliest possible time.  


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