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Law Offices of Ronald W. Rutz
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February 18, 2005: Roadkill

Q: Driving around Larimer County, I have seen many dead animals apparently struck by cars. I was wondering what happens if I hit something? (This column is also for Levi who thought it might be cool for me to write about roadkill.)

A: I too have noticed a number of dead animals lately but nothing like several of my clients experienced a few years ago when they came upon a dead buffalo north of town. But that might be a topic for another column. Let me update an old column for both Levi and you.

The following background and statistics are derived from telephone calls to the Colorado Highway Patrol, the Department of Wildlife, and several animal rights groups, along with an article in the January/February 2005 issue of AAA’s EnCompass Magazine.

Each year approximately 200 people die nationwide in animal-vehicle collisions with 1.5 million deer involved and at a cost of $1.1 billion dollars in property damage alone. About one quarter of the accidents involved human injury. I am told that there are about 2000 such accidents annually in Colorado. During the ten years spanning 1993 to 2002, twenty-three Coloradoans were killed and 2,266 injured in 24,678 accidents. Animal deaths included an estimated 8,400 deer, 1,600 elk, and 95 antelope. But 140 bears, 9 moose, and 16 mountain lions also died during that period.

Looking at the legal side of the issue, although Colorado owns the animals, Colorado is not liable for the damaged vehicle. A victim needs to contact his or her insurance company for any possible reimbursement. Normally, damage is paid for under an owner’s comprehensive coverage.

No, you are not permitted to throw the animal into your trunk and take off. You can be charged with a number of offenses including the illegal possession of wildlife. (So Darrell, Darrell and Darrell on the old Bob Newhart show would have had a difficult time, if the show had been set in Colorado.)

No, you are not permitted to enter onto private property to do things like retrieve the carcass, see if the animal is O.K., or to assist an injured animal. This is no different than a hunter who shoots an animal but is not permitted to track it onto private property, at least according to law enforcement. It is difficult for me to understand the possible conviction for criminal trespass under these circumstances. Thus, a Good Samaritan needs to beware, especially if the legal defense of an "emergency" is not recognized.

Now the following is not entirely clear, but apparently a person does have a duty to move the body if it could endanger other motorists. But if the animal is alive, be careful and do not go near it because the animal could be dangerous. I am told that you do have a duty to notify the State Patrol or the local police authority, especially if there is damage to your vehicle. You could be cited if the damage to your car is later spotted by an officer or reported by someone else. At the very least the Humane Society should be called.

Normally if the carcass is in acceptable condition, the animal is donated to a charitable entity but the State Patrol has a form that can be filled out so that your claim can be considered.

So much more to write about but out of space. Well, Levi, what do you think?

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