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Owner of philandering bull strictly liable but comparatively at fault for neighbor’s injuries


When Taylor’s bull crossed the fence, attracted by Coble’s heifers, Coble hopped on his ATV. The bull charged and the ATV flipped. The bull mounted–not the heifer–but the ATV, pinning Coble, who was seriously injured. In Coble v. Taylor, the Missouri of Appeals for the Southern District reviewed Missouri’s fencing laws to affirm that Taylor was liable for Coble’s injuries resulting from his attempt to drive the bull back home. The jury awarded damages for Coble’s injuries; however, the damage award was reduced, based on the jury finding that Taylor was 65% at fault and Coble was 35% at fault.

Under Missouri’s fencing laws, particularly section 272.030, an owner of livestock is liable for damages sustained if his animal trespasses by breaching a lawful fence.

Taylor (the owner of the bull) argued that the fence was not an “exterior” fence (one along a public road, not a fence that separates the land of two different owners), but a partition fence, and therefore was not the kind of fence that section 272.030 referred to. The appellate court stated that section 272.030 was a modern statute that didn’t follow the old common law that limited the livestock owner’s liability to injuries resulting only breaches of exterior fences, which was related to the 19th century concept of fencing out free-ranging animals, rather than fencing them in.

Taylor also argued that the he and his wife should not be strictly liable for injuries resulting from animal trespass, so that they should not be liable for injuries caused by Coble flipping his ATV. “Strict liability” essentially means liability without regard to the actions of the person who was injured. The appeals court reviewed the Restatement (Second) of Torts, section 518, which is a distillation of appellate court decisions of state and federal courts, with commentary, to find that “any trespassing bull may be expected to attack and gore any other animal or any person who gets in his way.” Thus it is reasonable to expect that people will try to control the bull and get hurt doing so, and the owner of the bull should be liable.

Coble argued that the jury should not have been instructed to determine that he was partly at fault for the way he drove the ATV, which led the jury to only compensate him for only 65% of the damages that he proved. The appeals court said that the jury was properly instructed to apply Missouri’s comparative fault statute, because the Missouri Supreme Court has determined that the legislature intended for comparative fault to be applied whenever possible (other than cases of intentional injury), even though the idea of strict liability and comparative fault seem incompatible.

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