Legal responsibility if accidentally hit an animal with your car?

This has never happened to me, but it has been on my mind as squirrels often dart right in front of my car when I’m driving through my subdivision.

What are my legal and moral responsibilities if I accidentally injure or kill an animal in a residential neighborhood with my car? Who do I even call? The police? The non-emergency number? I would of course stop and call if I hit a pet but what about a squirrel or a rabbit? Are there animal guidelines for this situation?

Well, what a coincidence. The highest court in the land, i.e., Judge Judy, had a case like that recently. In another remarkable coincidence it was about an incident that occurred here in Rhode Island, and on top of that the defendant brought his lawyer to the show with him, and I know who that lawyer is because unfortunately I’ve had to recommend him to several idiots who picked up DUIs.

The upshot of that case was this: It was an accident. The guy was driving down the road not violating any laws, and it was the responsibility of the dog’s owner to keep him under control and out of the street. Plaintiff’s case was dismissed.

As always, it depends on jurisdiction, but many places require that you stop and call the police if you hit a domestic animal (dog, cat, horse, cow, certain other barnyard livestock). This is both for the benefit of the owner and the animal, as a vet might be able to save them. In some places a person who abandons an injured animal can be charged with cruelty or mistreatment.

However, the laws I’ve seen normally only apply to domestic animals. Something like a squirrel or a wild pig would not require a call. From a moral perspective, it would be nice if you called Animal Control or a Game Warden to put down an injured animal, even if it is not legally required.

Not exactly the same situation, but until fairly recently many western states had open range laws that not only exempted ranchers from liability if their livestock wanders out onto a road and gets hit by a car, but in certain circumstances could require the driver to compensate the rancher for the cost of the animal. The open range laws have been heavily truncated over the last few decades, but some states still have them, although I don’t know if any still hold the driver responsible.

Oregon has this law…

[“If you hit and injure an animal, stop and make an effort to check the extent of injury. Give reasonable attention to the animal. What you can do may vary with traffic hazards at the time or the animal’s demeanor. If possible, you should try to get the animal out of the way of traffic. Immediately report the animal’s injuries to its owner. If you are unable to locate the owner, report the injuries to the nearest police agency.”]

In Florida, you are not required to report collisions with wild animals. However, if the animal is dead or immobile and creates a road hazard (say, something large like a deer or alligator) you have to call that in.

Yeah, this is my experience too. A domestic animal is someone’s property you damaged. A wild animal is not.

It carries through to insurance, too. I hit a deer once, and was surprised to find that the insurance claim for damages was under “comprehensive”. In fact, when the insurance company called me back, they opened the conversation with “I want to talk to you about the deer that hit your car.” (actually, a fair term for it. The critter dive-bombed me from above, jumping from a bank alongside the road.). Had it been a domestic animal, it would have been under “collision”.

Yeah, if a deer or squirrel jumps in front of your car, it is considered an act of God, not something you have any liability or responsibility for. But as others have said, if there’s an obstruction in the road you should call the police and let them know. (Or remove it yourself, if that’s safe.) And some jurisdictions pay someone to remove carcasses from the side of the road. Others leave them to rot.

If you hit something small, like a squirrel or rabbit, just keep driving and don’t worry about it. And if you hit someone’s pet, PLEASE stop and try to contact them. Whether or not the law requires it, it’s the decent thing to do.

Funny timing on this question. The missus and I were driving to a relative’s house on the Saturday after New Years Day, when we came across a car on the opposite side of the road, the front kind of bashed in, with a police car beside it and a truck pulling a horse trailer pulling away from it.

About a quarter mile up the road, lying on the shoulder, we saw (wait for it)… a dead llama.

Who’s ever going to believe your story that the damage to your car is because you hit a passing llama???

“No, I SWEAR I wasn’t driving home drunk from a New Years Eve party! I totally hit a llama when I was just driving down the road on Saturday!”

That wording doesn’t read like a law. What is that quoted from?

An advisory from the Oregon DMV.

Pretty much the same in the UK:

If you hit one of these you are required by law to report it to the police:
Donkeys and mules

If you hit another type of animal, such as a cat or a fox, you are not required by law to report it but you might want to contact the police anyway.

Deer are a problem: The total vehicle damage from deer-related accidents in the UK is around£17 million a year.

It’s the responsibility of the Local Council to remove carcases.

Also in the UK, if you hit and kill a game animal (deer or pheasant, usually) you are not allowed to collect the carcass.

The car behind you can, however.

This is intended to stop people from deliberately hitting such animals.

That’s the law here in Idaho, only on marked sections of highway though.

I’m not aware of any law in Ohio on this point, but yes, you’d want to call the police or animal warden if the carcass is large enough to cause a hazard to others.

I once hit and killed a feral cat which ran right out in front of me, and felt awful about it.

On a lighter note, sometimes the road crew will notice… and sometimes they won’t:

Here is the Oregon traffic code for that:

I drive past fields full of llamas, ostriches, emus, camels, and zebras on my way to work everyday.

Well, I have hit (1) a German shepherd and (2) a cat. In either case I had NO responsibility, in the states I was in (respectively, Texas and Colorado). They were animals at large and in either case avoiding them could have been hazardous.

However, in both cases I stopped as soon as I could and went back to see if there was anything I could do to help the animals/owners.

The dog was okay. The cat was not okay, and I went way out of my way to take the cat and her owner to the emergency vet. The owner, who it turned out had written a bad check for the cat’s spay only days before, then disappeared, and I offered to pay for the cat’s emergency care, but the vet turned my offer down. The vet found the cat a new home, hopefully with a much more responsible owner.

I see that I acted properly under the laws of Oregon regarding such, but there wasn’t this kind of law, at the time, where I was, so it was all at my discretion. I don’t know that I would stop for a squirrel, though. I also don’t know if I would have stopped if I’d been on my way to something that really mattered, like a job I couldn’t be late to.

(1) I was driving on a two-lane highway. I was going a little fast, then up ahead I saw a group of children, one on a horse, and a couple of dogs by the side of the road, so I slowed down, somewhat. The dog in question started chasing my car. He basically ran into my car, fell down, and possibly was stunned. He was limping, but the kids declared that he was okay and said he always chased cars and I should not have slowed down, as he didn’t chase the faster cars. (!!!)

(2) I was driving along a narrow one-way street, one lane, cars parked on both sides. I felt a thump. I did not even see the black cat but I knew I’d hit something. Even if I’d seen the cat, I’m not sure there was anywhere I could have gone to avoid hitting her, and a panic stop was out of the question as there was traffic close on my tail. There was nowhere to park, so I went around the block, found a place, walked up to where I thought I’d hit it, and ran into the owner and another girl cussing out the “hit and run driver.” I pointed out that that was me, and there was nowhere to stop. The three of us managed to coax the cat out from under another parked car, and then I took her to the vet. (Owner had no car.)

I’m surprised someone wasn’t shearing the thing before it was carted away.

Stopping for something like a squirrel, besides being pointless could actually be quite dangerous, you might end up causing a traffic accident or something or get run over if you really thought it was important to move it’s tiny body off the road. Just keep on truckin’.