So you hit an animal on the road. Living in Texas, it’s bound to happen at some point. But what do you do if it’s not just some unfortunate woodland creature, but is instead an unfortunate livestock animal who wandered too far from their pasture?
Well, it depends.
Since 1876, the Texas Legislature has allowed for the passage of local stock laws that modify the common law rule of open range. If these laws are in place, the open range common law is modified and landowners have a duty to prevent animals from entering the highway pursuant to the stock law.
What’s open range? Open range means that the county has never held a local stock option election within the county; therefore the county is “open range.” In open range counties, property owners are required to build and maintain a fence that is sufficient to keep livestock off their property.
However, this does not exempt livestock owners from damages that may be caused by trespassing livestock. Even though a county is open range, livestock are not permitted to roam or traverse unattended along a U.S. or state highway. A livestock owner may be charged with a Class C misdemeanor for allowing his or her livestock to do so.1
“Uh… what?” To break it down in Layman’s terms: Texas is “open range” and that means a livestock owner does not have a legal duty to prevent animals from getting onto the roadway; the owner may not be held liable for injuries to a motorist who collides with the livestock on the roadway.
Now, with that being said, that doesn’t mean that livestock owners can let their animals gallivant any which way without consequences. If an animal gets out on a Farm to Market road, the owner isn’t held liable. Sometimes fences integrity becomes compromised due to inclement weather or pesky animals. If livestock are on a large plot of land, it can be difficult for an owner to keep up with all of the weak spots. However, if the animals get loose on federal or state highways, the law is less than forgiving and the owner will be held responsible.
Unfortunately there’s not one big blanket law when it comes to livestock. Instead, they vary between counties. Brazos county is open range, although if you’re curious about the more meticulous details of the law, you can contact the local county officials.
Best rule of thumb, though, is to constantly monitor the integrity of fences and keep track of the number of your livestock. Farm-to-table is a-okay; farm-to-windshield… not as much.