Dairy Excel: Legislation to give responsible livestock owners some liability relief


There was the emu, the strange African antelope, the pair of Jersey-Zebu crossbreds and a beef cow. These were the escaped animals that have roamed our township that I can recall.

The beef cow, which I dubbed “the feral cow,” actually had a calf and the two roamed for more than a year before they landed in a hunter’s freezer.

While it was somewhat interesting to track the reported sightings (or nibbled round bales in some cases) and figure out where and how far some of these animals roamed, the problem was that a number of these sightings were on busy roadways, both day and night.


Likely because of potential liability issues if one of these animals were to cause an accident on a roadway, we usually didn’t hear about someone looking for or claiming ownership of these animals. As far as I know, only the crossbreds had an owner who cared for them, was looking for them, gathered them up and took them home where they are quite happy today.

As livestock owners, we do not want our animals out at all, and certainly not any place where they will cause harm to themselves or others. As owners in areas where we have growing non-farm populations, we need to take a frequent look at buildings, fences, gates and latches and ensure that they are in good repair so animals stay where they belong. We also have to consider locks on gates in remote locations.


Thanks to House bill 22, which will take effect Sept. 20, livestock owners will have less risk of automatically being held liable for damages when their animals escape and run loose on public roadways and on other’s property.

According to Peggy Hall, ag law specialist for OSU Extension, “Criminal liability will occur only when proven that a livestock operator behaved ‘recklessly’ in allowing the animals to run loose. Under Ohio law, a person behaves recklessly when he or she perversely disregards a known risk of his or her conduct, with heedless indifference to the consequences of that conduct.

“For example, a livestock owner who sees but intentionally ignores a downed fence where cattle graze near a roadway could be deemed reckless.”


The new law establishes a different standard of liability for a civil situation. A person may recover damages against a livestock owner if harm resulted because the livestock owner’s negligence caused the animals to escape.”

Under Ohio law, negligence is a substantial lapse of ‘due care’ that results in a failure to perceive or avoid a risk. For example, a livestock owner who has not checked the line fences in a grazing area for several years could be deemed negligent.”

Additionally, the revised law states an animal being at large creates an initial presumption of negligence by the owner. The animal owner must then rebut the presumption by proving that he or she exercised due care.”


Read more of the report on Peggy Hall’s Ag Law Blog at http://ohioaglaw.wordpress.com/.

This is certainly good news for Ohio’s farmers, a welcome protection, but not an excuse to be any less diligent in making sure our animals stay exactly where they belong. Home.

(The author is an OSU Extension dairy specialist located at the extension center in Wooster; 330-263-3799. Send comments or questions in care of Farm and Dairy, P.O. Box 38, Salem, OH 44460.)


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