Are you insured for hitting a farm animal?

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Question: Early in the morning on my way to work I hit a horse that came running across the road.  It caused considerable damage to my car, but no injury to me. The police came and took hair samples and were able to locate the horse's owner. Will my car insurance policy cover this? Will a deductible be due?  Will my insurance company claim against the horse owner? How does this work?

Answer:  It's great to hear that you were uninjured -- and that the responding officer went the extra mile to take hair samples from the horse and locate its owner.  We hardly hear of that being done.  Even with the owner's name in hand, it'll likely be much easier to place a claim through your own auto insurance policy than dealing with the horse owner or his insurance company.

To file an auto insurance claim for this incident, you need to have comprehensive coverage as part of your policy.  If you only have liability insurance, then you won't be able to make a claim since this coverage doesn't cover your vehicle in any way.

Comprehensive covers your vehicle when it hits, or is hit by, common animals, such as dogs or deer , or other wildlife, such as horses, cows, elk or birds.

The deductible associated with your comprehensive coverage will be due, but if the horse owner is found liable then there is a chance your car insurance company will be able to recover this cost during its subrogation with the owner.

We say if the horse owner is liable, because depending upon your state's negligence laws and open range rules, he may not be.

The horse is out of the barn

If the owner knowingly let the horse out into the roadway, then it's possible he will be held responsible for it crossing your path and being hit.  If the owner were unaware that the horse was set loose, such as someone vandalized his fence and it escaped, then the owner may not be found liable. 

Also, in some western states, there are still open or free range laws that allow domestic and farm animals to roam free.  These laws are older, so some have been updated to take into account more modern times and at least require for livestock owners to keep their animals from roaming unattended on the right-of-way on highways.

For example, Texas Agriculture Code section 143.102 basically tells owners to keep farm animals off Texas highways and then section 143.103 gives immunity to someone whose vehicle strikes, kills, injures or damages an unattended animal that is running at large on a highway and therefore is not liable for the animal except if the driver is found to be grossly negligent in the operation of their vehicle or showed willful intent to harm the animal.

If, however, your state's laws allow certain animals to roam free and puts the burden on the driver to keep from hitting these animals, blame could actually fall on you for injury to the horse.

Let your insurance company earn its money

Due to how complex the situation could get, we recommend filing the claim through your comprehensive coverage and leaving the heavy lifting to your insurance company.  Their claims professionals will determine if the horse owner is liable and if he has farm liability insurance that would pay for the injured horse and your vehicle's damages or if you are considered liable and the horse owner could place a property damage liability claim against your policy.

Since your car has considerable damage, it's possible that it will be totaled out.  If that is the case, you will get actual cash value for it, and your deductible amount will be deducted from the settlement amount.  If the vehicle is to be repaired, the deductible would be due to the repair shop before your insurer pays the remainder of the repair costs.  (See "What if I can't pay my deductible")

Luckily, comprehensive claims don't usually affect your car insurance rates; unless you've made a few claims lately, and then the amount of claims you've made with your auto insurance company may cause your rates to rise.  If they do go up, just shop around for cheaper car insurance rates because there is likely a competitor that will offer you lower premiums. 



The views and opinions expressed herein are the views and opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of The NASDAQ OMX Group, Inc.



This article appears in: Personal Finance , Insurance

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