Sometimes Atlanta car accidents are caused not by negligent drivers but by negligent handling of animals or other hazards. In a recent Georgia car accident case, the court considered the obligation of those who keep livestock to appropriately secure them. The case arose one night when a plaintiff was driving south on State Highway 11 with her child. Her car hit a cow owned by the defendants. The cow was standing in the road. The plaintiffs sued the defendants for negligence under OCGA § 4-3-1 and Section 6-34 of the Jasper County Code of Ordinances.
The defendant family asked for summary judgment on the grounds that they’d used ordinary care in maintaining their livestock and fences and that the local ordinance was preempted by state law. One family member’s affidavit set forth that her obligations on the family farm included checking the fences. It was her opinion that a five-foot-high board fence with a five-strand barb wire was enough to confine the livestock. She had inspected the fence after the accident and attested that the gates were closed, and the fences were working properly. She couldn’t figure out how the cow escaped the fenced area. Prior to the incident, the cow had never escaped. In response to the summary judgment motion, the plaintiffs argued that the fence was plainly not enough because three cows were in the road at the time of the collision. The defendants’ motion was denied.
On appeal, the defendants argued that the evidence demonstrated they used reasonable care in taking care of their fence and their cows. They also argued that the plaintiffs’ case was based on speculation; admissible evidence hadn’t been presented to counter the defendant’s showing of their ordinary care.
Under OCGA § 4-3-3, a livestock owner is not allowed to let her livestock run large or stray onto the road or even other people’s property unless permission is given by the other property owner. The fact that an owner allows livestock to go at large permits the court to infer that the owner was negligent, but the inference is removed if the owner is able to prove she used ordinary care in maintaining the livestock.
In this case, the family presented evidence through an affidavit that the fences were enough to keep the cattle confined and that the cow hit by the plaintiffs’ vehicle hadn’t escaped the farm before the accident. After the accident, the fences stayed in good repair. No gates were left open. The plaintiffs presented no credible evidence that would contradict the defendant’s claims about what had happened or how well the livestock was confined. Instead, the plaintiffs testified that there were three cows on the road, and they claimed this fact alone was enough to show negligence.
The appellate court explained that a jury question could be raised through the introduction of proof of past incidents of straying. There has to be a causal nexus with regard to time and location to the maintaining of fencing. Showing there were stray cows on a particular night didn’t demonstrate prior notice to the defendants that the fence was inadequate.
Additionally, the appellate court agreed with the defendants that they were entitled to summary judgment regarding the plaintiffs’ claim that the defendants had violated a county ordinance. OCGA § 4-3-1 preempted the ordinance, though both laws forbade the running at large of livestock. The ordinance imposes more liability than the state law does, and it alters the stated purpose of the state law.
The appellate court reversed the judgment.
Whether you were injured in a car accident in Atlanta because of a negligent livestock owner, a road defect, or another driver, you should discuss your situation with seasoned personal injury attorney Stephen M. Ozcomert. With more than 2 decades of experience, Mr. Ozcomert may be able to help you. Call us at (404) 370-1000 or contact us via our website.