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Who’s Liable When a Car Accident is Caused by an Animal?

Mark A. Simon, Attorney at Law Aug. 9, 2023

Most of us are familiar with the process of filing an insurance claim after an accident with another car. You exchange information with the other driver, take pictures, then contact your provider to start the claims process. Maybe you rear-ended the other driver or maybe they ran a red light—but you can typically figure out who was at fault. But who is liable if avoiding hitting an animal caused an accident?  

In the state of Colorado, there are an average of 3,300 cases per year where wildlife is hit by cars, leading to approximately $1.1 billion dollars in insurance claims. It’s worth noting that this statistic doesn’t include incidents with domesticated animals, which would lead to an even higher number of cases. This information put out by the Colorado Department of Transportation is a shocking reminder of just how common these accidents are and why drivers should know what to do if this happens to them. 

If you would like more information about handling an auto accident involving an animal, reach out to our team at Mark A. Simon, Attorney at Law. We’re proud to serve individuals in the Denver area, including Aurora, Commerce City, Englewood, Arvada, Lakewood, Centennial, Wheatridge, and Thornton. Set up a consultation with us today. 

Common Accidents Caused by Animals 

Car accidents involving animals are far more common than you may think. They can happen in a few different ways, be it with a wild animal, family pet, or livestock. 

  • Swerving to avoid the animal: In cases where a deer or other animal darts into the road, your initial reaction will be to swerve to avoid hitting them. This is only natural—but given the speed you’re going, you may end up causing another accident simply by trying to avoid this one. You could run into an oncoming car, sideswipe a car in the other lane, or run off the road and hit a pole. In other contexts, you may be able to safely stop to let an animal cross the road, but the car behind you fails to see you’re stopped and rear-ends you. 

  • Hitting the animal causes damage: In some cases, either it would have been too dangerous to swerve out of the way, or the animal moved so quickly in front of your car that you were unable to avoid hitting it. Here, the animal itself can cause damage to your car or cause injuries to the driver or passengers.  

  • Distracted by an animal in the car: Yet another scenario that many people don’t think about is how our own pets who are riding in the car with us can cause accidents. For instance, if a dog jumps into the driver’s seat, this action could cause you to veer off the road and crash. 

Who Is Liable for an Accident Caused by an Animal?

Whenever you initiate an insurance claim or a personal injury claim, you’ll need to present evidence that clearly shows who was liable (at fault) for the accident occurring. In crashes that involve animals, knowing who is liable can be quite complicated and will depend on the circumstances of the accident. Since these cases can be tricky, it’s important to contact a car accident attorney who can look at the particulars of your case and help you decide your next steps for seeking compensation. A number of entities may be liable for an accident in Colorado: 

  • The owner of the animal: In many cases, if the animal was domesticated (which could mean livestock like a cow as well as a family pet like a cat or dog), the owner has a duty of care to ensure they don’t get loose and into places that can cause an accident. In a case where the animal’s owner accidentally left a gate open or neglected to tie up their dog who then ran into the middle of the road, the owner would be liable for any damages caused by that accident.  

  • The driver who was distracted: If it can be proven that the driver was the one who caused the accident (for example, if they weren’t paying attention to the road or were distracted by an animal in their car), then they would likely be found legally liable.  

What Happens in the Case of Wildlife?

Of course, there are accidents that involve wild animals that don’t belong to anyone. Some common wild animals found in Colorado are deer, moose, big-horn sheep, or bison—all of which can cause substantial damage to cars as well as inflict injuries on passengers. Since these animals have no owner, there is no one to sue or place blame for the accident. You’d most likely have to use your own insurance to cover the damages.  

This is most often done using comprehensive insurance coverage. However, drivers in Colorado are not required to carry this. If you don’t have it, you may be stuck paying damages out-of-pocket.  

Learn About Your Options

Car wrecks caused by animals can be complex cases. If you’ve recently been involved in such an accident, reach out to a personal injury attorney right away. For help in the Denver, Colorado area, set up a consultation with our team at Mark A. Simon, Attorney at Law.