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How to Defend Yourself in a Livestock Injury Lawsuit
Livestock such as cows and horses can both cause injury to others or be injured themselves. For example, a cow may wander onto a road, where it collides with a passing vehicle. Alternately, your dog might bite someone’s livestock. You can be a defendant in both kinds of lawsuits. If you are defending a livestock injury lawsuit, then you should contact your insurance company. You might also want to resolve the dispute outside court, by participating in negotiation or mediation.
Defending an Injury Your Dog Caused to Livestock
Call your insurer.Most injuries to livestock are caused by dogs. If your dog has injured someone’s livestock, then you should call your insurer. Your homeowners or dog owner’s liability insurance might cover the claim against you. For this reason you should contact your insurer as soon as possible with the following:
- pictures of the injury
- the names of the livestock owner and any witnesses
- police report
Get evidence of the injury.Try to get pictures or other evidence of the injury to the livestock. If the livestock wandered onto your property, find evidence. Take pictures of hoof marks on your lawn or broken down fences.
- If you can get a picture of the injury to the livestock, then that would help as well.
- Also get a copy of any police report.
Receive a complaint.The livestock owner will file a complaint in court to start the lawsuit. In the complaint, the owner explains the facts that gave rise to the dispute and also explains what he or she wants from the court (usually money damages). You will receive a copy of the complaint along with the summons.
- Read both documents closely. In particular, pay attention to the deadline for responding, which should be on the summons.
Identify defenses.You face an uphill climb defending yourself in a dog bite case. In particular, the law will apply “strict liability.”This means that the livestock owner doesn’t need to show that you were reckless in how you handled your dog. The livestock owner doesn’t even need to show that you were careless.
- Instead, the livestock owner only needs to show that you own the dog and the dog bit the livestock. It is very difficult to get out from a strict liability offense.
- However, you could argue that the livestock owner waited too long to file the lawsuit. Your state’s statute of limitations requires that plaintiffs bring suits within a certain amount of time. Search for “livestock injury statute of limitations” and your state to find out how long a plaintiff has to file the lawsuit.
- You might also be able to argue that the livestock broke into your property, where it was bitten.
- If the animal caused damage to your property, you could also bring a counterclaim. In your counterclaim, you sue for the damage the livestock caused to your property.
Write your answer.You respond to a complaint by drafting and filing an answer with the same court. In the answer, you admit, deny, or claim insufficient knowledge to admit or deny each claim. You can also raise any defenses or counterclaims.
- Your court might have a printed answer form you can use.If not, then you will have to draft your own. You can ask the court clerk if there is a sample you can use. Alternately, you can search the Internet for sample answers.
- For more information, see Answer a Civil Lawsuit.
File the answer.Make several copies and then take them all to the court clerk. Ask to file the original. Then have the court clerk stamp all of the copies with the date.
- You must also serve a copy of the answer on the plaintiff or the plaintiff’s attorney (if there is one).Ask the clerk for the acceptable methods of service.
Prepare for trial.You can have a lawyer represent you in court. However, if you want to represent yourself, then you should prepare for trial by gathering any evidence you want to submit. You might introduce photographs, a diagram of your property, or a police report.
- You can turn these documents into exhibits by getting exhibit stickers from your nearest office supply store or from the court. You can attach the sticker on the back of the photograph or in a blank space near the bottom or top of a document.
- If you have any witnesses, then you may need to serve them with a subpoena. A subpoena is a legal document that commands the witness to appear in court on the trial date.You can get a subpoena from the court clerk. Ask about acceptable methods of service.
Attend the trial.A trial will consist of jury selection, an opening statement, the presentation of witnesses, and then a closing argument.If you are being sued for a large sum of money, then you might want to hire a skilled attorney to represent you.
- You also might be sued in small claims court. Procedures in these courts can be somewhat different from a regular civil trial. For example, you may choose not to be governed by the rules of evidence. There will also not be a jury. Instead, the judge in small claims court typically decides the case.
- You should get any available small claims court handbook or manual published by the court. Often, these are published online and contain helpful information for representing yourself in a small claims hearing.
- See Win in Small Claims Court for information on how to handle a small claims case.
Defending an Injury Caused by Your Livestock
Meet with a lawyer.Sometimes livestock wander onto a road and collide with traveling vehicles. These kinds of accidents can cause serious damage. If your livestock injures someone in this manner, then you can expect to be sued. Accordingly, you should meet with a lawyer as soon as possible. Don’t wait until the lawsuit is filed.
- You can get a referral to an attorney by contacting your local or state bar association.
- Once you have a referral, you can schedule a consultation. Many lawyers now offer free or reduced-fee consultations. Take relevant documents, such as police reports and photographs, to the attorney.
Hire the lawyer.You should also think about hiring the lawyer to represent you. If costs are a concern, then discuss different billing arrangements with the lawyer. For example, she might be willing to represent you for a flat fee instead of the usual billable hour.
- Also, the lawyer might be willing to do only the work that you give her. This is called “limited scope representation.” For example, you might handle all of the pre-trial work yourself but hire a lawyer to represent you at trial. Ask the lawyer during your consultation if he or she offers this service.
Contact your insurance company.If you run a farm, then you should be carrying insurance to cover accidents caused by your livestock. Take out your policy and find the contact number.
- You shouldn’t delay contacting your insurer. Your policy usually contains a deadline for reporting claims. You should report them as soon as possible.
Read the complaint.Once a lawsuit is filed, the plaintiff will send you a copy of the complaint and the summons. Go through each document carefully to see what facts the plaintiff alleges in support of the lawsuit.
- You will probably be sued for “negligence.”Negligence means that you were not reasonably careful in how you penned up the animal. This is a fact-specific inquiry. The jury will need to look at how you restrained your livestock—with a fence, by keeping them in a locked barn, etc.—and whether these actions were reasonable.
Identify defenses.You can defend against a negligence claim by arguing that you were sufficiently reasonable in the care you took to restrain the animal. For example:
- The fences you installed were in good working condition and were sufficiently high to keep the animal from escaping. The day of the accident, the fence might have failed because of damage caused by a storm.
- You weren’t responsible for the animal escaping. Instead, someone else (like a vandal), broke the fence or otherwise released the animal.
- The injured person helped cause the injury. For example, if someone sneaks onto your property and frees an animal, then he is responsible if the animal then stomps on him.
Respond to the complaint.You will need to draft an answer and file it with the court before the deadline stated in the summons. You should get an answer form from the court where the lawsuit has been filed.
Defend yourself at trial.If you have an attorney, then the attorney can represent you. A trial typically consists of jury selection, the presentation of witnesses and evidence, and opening and closing statements. If you hire an attorney, then the attorney can handle the trial.
Testify on your own behalf.Your testimony at trial can be critical. In particular, the jury will want to know what you did to restrain your animals. You can expect the plaintiff’s lawyer to cross-examine you about your actions. To make an effective witness, remember the following:
- Show respect for the seriousness of the situation. Dress professionally, as you would for a job interview, and treat everyone politely.
- Speak clearly and simply. Don’t provide additional information unless the lawyer asks for it.
- Always answer out loud, using whole words. Don’t mumble, shrug, or say “uh huh.”
- Look at the lawyer asking questions but then turn to the jury when you answer.
Appeal, if necessary.If you lose at trial, you might want to appeal. You should discuss an appeal with an attorney. To bring an appeal, you need to pay to have court transcripts created. You also need to pay a filing fee, which can be expensive.
- If you choose to file, then don’t delay. After the verdict is announced, ask the court clerk for a Notice of Appeal form. You can always choose not to file the form if you meet with an attorney and decide an appeal is not worthwhile.
Settling Disputes Outside Court
Propose negotiation.You have a strong incentive to resolve the dispute outside of court. In some states, such as California, you can be forced to pay double damages for the injury your dog causes.
- Also, if your livestock injures people, then you could end up paying a huge amount in a jury verdict.
- By settling outside of court, you can control how much you end up paying the plaintiff. If you go to trial, then you have no control over how much the jury awards the plaintiff should you lose.
- Have your lawyer contact the plaintiff’s attorney to propose settlement negotiations. If you are representing yourself, then call the plaintiff’s lawyer directly.
Negotiate effectively.You should go into negotiations prepared. Before negotiations begin, decide on what is the most that you would be willing to pay in order to settle the lawsuit.
- To come to this number, you should consider how much the plaintiff is suing for and how strong the plaintiff’s case is. Talk this over with your attorney.
- For example, if the plaintiff has a very strong case, then you might want to settle close to what the plaintiff is asking for. However, if the plaintiff’s case is weak, then you might only settle if the plaintiff accepts 50% of the amount she is asking from the court.
- If the plaintiff is unwilling to settle for an amount under your maximum, then you can walk away from negotiations.
Offer mediation as an alternative.Mediation is a form of “assisted negotiation.” You and the plaintiff will meet with a neutral third party, called the mediator. The mediator’s job is to listen to both you and the plaintiff describe the dispute and then help guide you to a resolution which both parties can agree on.
- Like negotiation, mediation is voluntary. You can get up and walk away from the negotiation table at any time.
- To find a mediator, contact your local courthouse. It may have a list of mediators, or it may run its own mediation program.
Draft a settlement agreement.Should you and the plaintiff reach an agreement, then write a settlement agreement and sign it. If you participate in mediation, then the mediator should be able to help you draft a settlement agreement.
- You can find settlement agreement templates on the Internet.You can then use them as a guide when drafting your own.
- Make sure that any settlement contains a release of liability. This is important for you to have. By agreeing to relieve you of any liability, the plaintiff cannot turn around and sue you again for the same injury.
- Sample waiver language would read: “Pursuant to and in consideration of the Parties’ promise to abide by the conditions of this agreement, the Parties and their respective officers, agents, directors, servants, employees, parents, subsidiaries, successors and assigns, hereby release each other from any and all claims arising out of, or related to, the facts alleged in the action.”
File the settlement with the court.You can file a settlement with the court at the same time that the plaintiff asks the court to dismiss the case. By filing the settlement with the court, you can ensure that you will be able to later sue to enforce it.
- You can attach the settlement agreement to the plaintiff’s Motion to Dismiss.
- Be sure to keep a copy of the settlement agreement for your records.
- You should realize that most states allow the owner of livestock to shoot your dog if it is attacking, chasing, or harassing livestock.Make sure to keep your dog securely tied up if you leave the dog outside.
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