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By Matthew Bonanno, Esq.
Each year, over 260,000 accidents are caused by an animal on the road. Of course you cannot sue an animal for getting in the way, but it might still be possible to hold other parties responsible for your accident. Depending on the situation, one or more of these parties may be at fault when an animal causes a truck accident.
First of all, it’s important to understand how car accident fault in New Jersey is determined. Typically, in a car accident, the police are called, the insurance company is consulted, and one or both of the drivers are blamed for the accident. However, animal car accidents are treated a little differently. Instead of a usual car crash, officials generally treat them like an act of nature.
Much like a car that is damaged by a flood or a fallen tree, no one is necessarily at fault when an animal makes a car crash. In fact, instead of being covered by your collision insurance, your accident case might be handled by your comprehensive insurance. Therefore, in the days right after your accident, fault might not get automatically assigned to anyone. This doesn’t necessarily mean you cannot sue anyone for the accident. Instead, it might just mean you need to consult with a trucking accident lawyer instead of letting your insurance company handle everything.
In most cases, the people driving the car are not at fault in a car accident with deer or other animals. However, there are some cases where the behavior of a driver contributes to the crash. The most common example involves cases where a person was speeding. If they were driving at a reasonably safe speed, they would have had time to avoid the animal. However, due to their negligent driving behavior, they hit the animal, flipped their car, and ran into another vehicle. In that sort of case, the driver might be partially at fault.
Keep in mind that you being partially at fault doesn’t necessarily prevent you from suing other drivers in the collision. New Jersey is a comparative negligence state. As long as you weren’t more than 50% responsible for the crash, you can recover a percentage of the damages equal to the amount of blame the other driver holds. So, if for example you were speeding a little but the other driver was driving without headlights when they hit an animal, you might still be able to sue them.
If the animal is some sort of domesticated animal, you may be able to bring a lawsuit against the animal’s owner. People who own animals have a duty to protect them and keep them from causing harm to others. If someone’s negligence caused the animal to end up in the road, they can face a lawsuit.
These sorts of lawsuits are most common in cases where a dog owner was walking their dog without a leash and the dog ran into the road. However, the owner might also be at fault if they did not properly secure an animal. For example, if a horse owner failed to put up a gate around their pasture or if a dog owner had an unsecured doggy door, they may be responsible for the crash. Anyone injured by the crash could sue the owner, regardless if they were the person avoiding the animal or if they were the person hit by another car avoiding the animal.
This might seem like a simple way of recovering money you lost due to the crash. However, identifying an animal’s owner can be tricky. If the animal was briefly seen darting across the street and then disappeared, finding the owner might be close to impossible. This is why it’s so important to collect evidence promptly. Doing things like asking to see a nearby homeowner’s doorbell camera can help you more clearly see the animal and figure out who it belonged to. Therefore, you can get the best possible outcome by consulting with a lawyer and gathering evidence early on.
Keep in mind that not all animal car accidents involve hitting a pet that a person failed to put on a leash. Instead, many car accidents involve domesticated animals like cows or chickens. In these cases, the owner might not be an individual you can sue directly. Instead, the owner may be a corporation of some sorts. The idea of suing a company might seem more intimidating, but in many instances, it’s easier to prove that the animal who caused the crash was owned by a company.
In these cases, who you sue depends on the circumstances. It is possible to sue a company, but it is made up of many individuals who might have contributed to the accident. So, in a typical lawsuit against a company, you would start by suing the general company and then potentially add on other names. For example, a specific employee at the company, such as a disgruntled manager who left a gate open on purpose, might also be a little at fault. In these cases, your car accident attorney may recommend suing multiple people.
In rare cases, the government may also be to blame for car accidents involving animals. The government has a duty to keep roads in a reasonably safe condition. If the government failed in this duty, such as failing to replace a streetlight bulb that would’ve shown you a deer running across the road, then they might be at fault. The government could also share some of the blame if poor upkeep caused a problem such as a pothole making you lose control of a vehicle when you tried to avoid an animal.
However, remember that this is very difficult to prove. The government is spread fairly thin, so they cannot reasonably address all road condition issues the moment they arise. Lawsuits about road conditions usually only result in favorable outcomes if the government has been grossly negligent. If you are considering suing the government, it is important to act fast. The statute of limitations for government lawsuits is shorter than normal.
As you can see, these sorts of car accidents can be somewhat complicated. Therefore, it’s helpful to have input from an experienced trucking accident lawyer. A knowledgeable lawyer can assist you with collecting evidence to show who should be blamed for the accident. If you were not at fault, you may be able to sue and get compensation for car repairs, medical bills, and other damages.
Any time you face an accident due to an animal, the team at RAM Law is here to help. We have offices conveniently located in New Brunswick and Somerville, and our team has spent years assisting people with trucking accident lawsuits. To schedule your free consultation, send us a message or call us at 732-394-1549.
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