Alabama’s Strange Livestock Law Highlighted

A recent decision from the Alabama Court of Civil Appeals, Brewer v. Atkinson, highlights the strange status of Alabama law as it deals with death or injury caused by livestock on roadways. Actions by the Alabama Legislature (§ 3-5-3(a), Ala. Code) and interpretations by the Alabama Supreme Court and Court of Civil Appeals create the current state of the law that says that a negligent or reckless company or person who own livestock which escape and get onto streets causing a crash that kills or maims motorists have no civil liability whatsoever, and need not pay any damages to the injured persons or their families. Yet if that same animal, on its way to that street, stopped to eat and damage a farmer’s crops, that farmer could hold the livestock owner responsible for the value of those crops.

Recent and past court interpretations, including the rejection of constitutional challenges to Ala. Code, § 3-5-3(a) lead to this scenario where, the owner of livestock who caused injury or death to an occupant of vehicle on a roadway is responsible only if it is proven that the owner “knowingly or willfully” put it on the roadway.

The Brewer decision upheld the dismissal of claims for injuries by the occupant of a vehicle that struck a cow at night in Mobile County. The court disagreed with his argument that this law had been impliedly repealed by 1951 amendments to Alabama’s stock laws.

By Michael L. Roberts