Whether a property owner can be held liable for injuries inflicted by their animals while on their property depends on quite a few factors, including who was injured (a friend, family member, child, farm worker, or trespassing persons), what animals caused the injury (cow, dog, horse), how the injury happened, the injured person’s experience with animals, and any warnings or precautions that were made clear by the farmer, among several others. These cases are fact-dependent, and there is ambiguity in the rules about when a livestock owner can be helped liable. However, there are a few Kentucky Court of Appeals cases that show examples of holding a farmer responsible when a visitor is injured by an obvious risk.
Visitors Should Understand the Risk of Handling Farm Animals
In Baker v. McIntosh, 132 S.W.3d 230 (Ky. App. 2004), McIntosh was loading colts into a trailer when a family friend, Baker, arrived unannounced at the barn. Baker began helping load the horses, and during the process, a colt reared and injured Baker. Baker sued McIntosh for his injuries. The Kentucky Court of Appeals ruled that McIntosh was not liable to Baker. The Court of Appeals explained that a person, such as McIntosh, who is keeping domesticated animals can normally be held liable if he intentionally causes the animal to cause harm, or acts negligently in failing to prevent any harm. Additionally, visitors to a workspace, such as Baker, are “not entitled to expect that special preparation will be made for his safety, but is entitled to expect only such safety as he would find in a properly conducted enterprise.” Id. At 232. For that reason, the property owner does not normally give a warning against dangers that visitors know are obvious. In this case, the Court of Appeals stated that the risk of loading colts, which are known to be “rambunctious and skittish,” should have been as apparent to Baker as it was to McIntosh. McIntosh was not held liable for the injuries.
Three years later, the Court of Appeals applied this same rule to the case of Loveless v. Ringstaff, 2007 WL 2142265 (Ky. App. July 27, 2007). In that case, Loveless had considerable experience in the cattle industry. Loveless was friends with Ringstaff and had assisted Ringstaff multiple times previously. On one occasion, the trailer was delayed, and the cattle had become restless in the high temperature. As the trailer was being loaded, one of the cows injured Loveless, and Loveless subsequently sued Ringstaff. The Court of Appeals explained that the ruling from the previously discussed case can be applied even more strongly because of the experience the individuals had with cattle and Loveless was more than well aware of the dangers of handling the cattle. Ringstaff was not held liable for the injuries.
This Ruling May Not Apply in Every Situation
The two cases described above show that farmers can not immediately be held liable for injuries that occur on their property. There are several situations where the risk of being around animals is known to the person who ends up injured. Although these cases turned out in favor of the farm owner, it is certainly possible that in a different case, the court could find the farmer should have done more to protect their visitors from harm. Additionally, different rules apply to injuries caused by dogs.
A personal injury attorney can discuss with you any situation or concern you have about liability and livestock. We are here to help you understand what responsibilities you have as a farm owner. It is necessary to protect yourself, your animals, and any and all visitors as best you can. Unfortunately, accidents do occur, but our attorneys are here to help you determine how best to respond to a potential lawsuit.