Injured Driver Must Prove Livestock Owner Failed to Use Ordinary Care

July 7, 2023 | Kitt Tovar Jensen

A semi-truck collided with a cow standing on the interstate. The driver brought a negligence lawsuit against the livestock owner claiming that he suffered personal injuries and property damage. The district court determined that the driver failed to prove that the livestock owner breached a duty of care. On appeal, the court affirmed that there was insufficient evidence that the owner failed to use ordinary care to constrain the animal.

Livestock Owners’ Duty of Care

To prove negligence, the proponent must show that the defendant owed a duty of care, the defendant breached that duty, the breach caused the proponent’s injuries, and damages resulted. See Thompson v. Kaczinski, 774 N.W.2d 829, 834 (Iowa 2009). The driver argued that because the cow was loose on the highway, the livestock owner breached his duty of care.

Iowa no longer imposes a statutory duty on livestock owners to fence in their livestock. See 1994 Iowa Acts ch. 1173, § 42(1) (repealing Iowa Code ch. 169B). However, livestock owners must exercise ordinary care to restrain their animals to prevent foreseeable injury. The court noted that imposing a duty to restrain livestock from entering the road under any circumstances would essentially apply a strict liability standard. The burden was upon the driver to prove negligence. Here, the driver did not provide any evidence of a breach of the duty of reasonable care. He submitted no evidence of broken fencing in need of repair or any other evidence of how the owner failed to exercise ordinary care to restrain the animal. 

Doctrine of Res Ipsa Loquitur

The driver next argued that under the doctrine of res ipsa loquitur, the livestock owner’s negligence spoke for itself because a cow unattended on the highways demonstrated that the animal was not properly confined. The court rejected this argument because “a cow may come to be on a roadway without any act of negligence necessarily bringing it there.” As a result, the Court of Appeals affirmed the dismissal of the negligence action.