Helping Neighbor with Livestock Not Included in Iowa’s Domesticated Animal Activity Liability Shield

July 6, 2023 | Jennifer Harrington

The case is Vreeman v. Jansma et. al., No 22-1365 (Iowa Ct. App. June 21, 2023).

In a June 21 ruling, the Iowa Court of Appeals held that helping a neighbor get a downed heifer back on its feet is not a “domesticated animal activity” under Iowa Code § 673.1(3) and therefore Iowa Code § 673.2 does not provides liability immunity for the owner of the heifer. The court overturned the district court’s summary judgment dismissal and remanded the case back to district court.


Plaintiff and Defendant are neighbor farmers, who occasionally help each other out. Defendant operates a cattle feedlot. In early 2020, defendant found a downed heifer in an area where cattle slats were installed. Defendant called plaintiff to help him stand the heifer upright, and plaintiff came over to help. Defendant directed the plaintiff to help with the head while defendant helped the heifer’s backside. Sometime during the process, the heifer swung its head and hit the plaintiff’s leg, causing serious injury.

Plaintiff sued defendant and defendant’s associated businesses for negligence. Defendant responded by filing a motion for summary judgment arguing that Iowa Code § 673.2[i] provided an immunity shield to a negligence claim arising from standing a downed heifer. The district court agreed, dismissing the case after finding that plaintiff’s damages were similar to those arising in Baker v. Shields,[ii] where the Iowa Supreme Court dismissed the case under Iowa Code § 673.2. The plaintiff appealed the district court’s determination that standing a heifer was a “domesticated animal activity” under Iowa Code Chapter 673.


The Iowa Court of Appeals examined Iowa Code § 673.1(3) which defines “domesticated animal activity” and consists of 14 subparts. The court found that standing a heifer was not included in any of the subparts, and that there is no liability shield if the activity is not part of the list.

The court then differentiated its holding from the Baker opinion.[iii] In Baker, the Iowa Supreme Court was examining the scope of “person” covered by § 673.2 and found “all ‘persons’ involved in a domesticated animal activity, including those arising from traditional farming[ ]” were covered. In distinguishing the present case, the court of appeals noted that the opinion examined the word “person” within the statute, and not the phrase “domesticated animal activity.” Further, the injury in Baker arose from attempting to move two heifers while riding a horse, and riding a horse is a listed activity. However, the injury in this case arose from getting a heifer onto its feet, which is not a listed activity in § 673.1(3). Since the injury arose from a different activity, the court reasoned that the plaintiff did not have a liability shield under § 673.2.

[i] “A person, including a domesticated animal professional, domesticated animal activity sponsor, the owner of the domesticated animal, or a person exhibiting the domesticated animal, is not liable for damages, injury, or death suffered by a participant or spectator resulting from the inherent risks of a domesticated animal activity.”

[ii] 767 N.W.2d 404, 409 (Iowa 2009).

[iii] Id.