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Civil Liability for Livestock on Highways

On Behalf of | Dec 2, 2022 | Firm News

Historically, Texas has rejected the English common-law rule, which imposes a duty on livestock owners to restrain their animals. However, the Texas Constitution explicitly authorized the Legislature to deviate from this rule should they choose. Tex. Const. Art. XVI §§ 22, 23. Consistent with this power, the Legislature enacted sections 143.102 and 143.074 under the Texas Agriculture Code.

Under section 143.102, cattle owners “may not knowingly permit the animal to traverse or roam at large, unattended, on the right-of-way of a highway.” Tex. Agric. Code § 143.102. The provision is often referred to as “the highway statute.”

Under section 143.074, certain counties are permitted to enact “stock laws” which provide that, “a person may not permit any animal of the class mentioned in the [stock law] proclamation to run at large in the county.” Tex. Agric. Code § 143.074. Unsurprisingly, this provision is often referred to as “the stock law statute.”

A violation of either provision subjects livestock owners to liability. Further, Texas courts have long assumed that both of these provisions “create an appropriate standard of care for civil liability purposes.” Pruski v. Garcia, 594 S.W. 3d 322 (Tex. 2020).

In Pruski, the Texas Supreme Court addressed whether the standards for imposing civil liability under these two statutory provisions conflict with each other when evaluating civil liability in the context of livestock roaming onto a highway and causing an accident.

In this case, a broken latch on the defendant’s fence allowed a bull to escape. The bull roamed onto the highway, where it was hit by the plaintiff’s truck. The plaintiff sued the livestock owner for his personal injuries and damages to his vehicle because of the bull’s escape.

After acknowledging that, “[w]hen a driver collides with an escaped bull on a state highway in a county with a stock law, the two statutes give rise to two irreconcilable standards of civil liability for the livestock owner,” the Court held that the court of appeals erred in finding that the defendant could be liable absent a showing that the defendant knowingly permitted the bull to roam.

In other words, when the two statutes conflict, the heightened standard set forth in section 143.102 prevails.

In support of this conclusion, the Court pointed to section 143.107, which sets forth the Legislature’s decision “that section 143.102’s highway liability rules, including its “knowingly” mental state, “prevail[] to the extent of any conflict with another provision of the chapter,” which includes the stock law statutes.”

For this reason, even in counties that have adopted a stock law, a plaintiff who sustains injuries from livestock on a highway must still prove that the owner knowingly permitted the livestock to traverse or roam on he right-of-way of a highway.

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