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Law Offices of Ronald W. Rutz
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July 5, 2001: What to do When You Hit an Animal with your Vehicle

Q: I just hit a deer (or I should say the deer hit me?). It probably is too late but do I have a right to claim the deer just to reimburse me for the damage to my car?

A: O.K., my first and only road kill question. I hope my answer is not in bad taste.

Never having a need to research this issue, I took the easy way out and called a police agency, the Department of Wildlife, and an animal rights group. I am now very confused but this is what I think they told me.

Surprisingly, according to the Colorado Highway Patrol, there are about 2000 such accidents involving wildlife each year in Colorado. No, the state of Colorado is not liable for your damaged vehicle. You need to contact your own insurance company for any possible reimbursement.

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.

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.

Now the following is not entirely clear, but apparently you do have a duty to move the animal if it could endanger other motorists and a duty to notify the State Patrol or the Humane Society, especially if there is damage to your vehicle. You could be cited if the damage to your car is later spotted or reported by someone else.

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

Now hitting a domestic animal is a whole different ball game when it comes to liability.

Traditionally Colorado is a fence out state, a legacy from the days when the cattle barons ruled the courts and legislatures. (It might also in part be a traced back to our Spanish roots). Thus it is up to an individual to protect his or her crops and plants by putting up fencing. Liability would only result if the animals broke through a "legal fence" (yes, there is such a definition in Colorado). But this entire area of law has been modified, so now local laws, zoning, Colorado cases, etc. can impose liability despite the general rule. And regardless of location the owners of certain animals, like hogs, are "strictly liable" for any accident. Finally legal concepts such as contributory negligence or comparative negligence on the part of a driver can reduce or eliminate any recovery.

And I am told that there is no way that a motorist who hits a domestic animal would have the right to claim it.

So, thank you for your question, but maybe think twice about claiming such an animal. You may suddenly have a major drop in acceptance to your dinner parties. I know it affected me dramatically back on the farm while I was happily dining on chicken until mom told us why we were so privileged that night. I should never have asked why my drumstick was broken. (The chicken was ours by the way.) Waste naught want not…whatever.

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