NAMPA and BOISE, Idaho. Under Idaho law, owners of animals on an open range have no duty to keep the animals off the highway. While this may make sense in rural areas with dirt roads and very little traffic, some claim that Idaho’s open range laws are creating problems for drivers, especially as formerly rural roads see more traffic.
Idaho’s open range laws protect ranchers from liability when an animal is involved in a car accident. According to the Idaho law, “no person owning . . . any domestic animal . . . on such range, shall be held liable for damage to any vehicle or for injury to any person riding therin . . .” This means that if an animal runs in front of your car and you get into a serious accident or suffer serious injury, you and your insurance will have to cover all damages and injuries—even if the animal was at fault and even if a fence would have prevented the accident.
The personal injury lawyers at the Law Office of Johnson & Lundgreen have seen the kind of damage an animal can do to a vehicle and understand the real danger animals on roads pose to passengers. Given this, one wonders why Idaho’s open range laws have not been updated to address modern traffic concerns and issues? The issue pits ranchers against drivers, rural life versus urban life, and raises questions about what happens to the law, when cities grow.
According to KTVB News, one driver wants to change Idaho’s open range laws after surviving a serious accident involving a rancher’s bull. The recently married woman had been driving home at night, when she and her husband crashed into the bull, leaving the woman pinned beneath the animal. She suffered brain and head injuries. Now, she is fighting to raise awareness of open range laws and asking the government to change them. She is joining a growing number of individuals who have been injured when they have crashed into livestock. This victims’ group argues that it isn’t safe to have livestock wandering freely around highways and roadways where cars travel at high speeds.
If the open range laws are changed, ranchers will likely have to put up fences and may be held liable if animals wander freely. According to the Idaho Rangeland Resource Commission, there are 22 million acres of rangeland in Idaho. It isn’t likely that all this land will be fenced in any time soon. However, some individuals are pushing to change the laws near cities where there is likely to be more traffic. As it stands, drivers are responsible for their own safety on the road and ranchers are not liable for injuries.
The Law Office of Johnson & Lundgreen is closely watching this debate that pits time-honored traditions against what some believe would be common sense safety measures. It isn’t clear which side will win, but the battle is likely to be contentious.