KCBD Investigates: Fatal crash involving livestock sparks liability questions

KCBD Investigates: Fatal crash involving livestock sparks liability questions

LUBBOCK, TX (KCBD) - A deadly crash in Hockley County has sparked questions about liability.

As KCBD first reported earlier this month, 21-year-old Alizah Reyes died Jan. 11, 2019 after the car she was riding in hit a dead cow on US 84 about five miles southeast of Anton.

Texas is an open range state, meaning livestock can roam at large, but property owners do have to keep livestock from roaming along a state or U.S. Highway.

Most counties also have the right to hold a stock option election to become a close range county, but through our investigation, we have learned finding those regulations can be difficult.

“We’ve been making stock laws since the early 1900s,” said Garrett Couts, an attorney at the McCleskey Law Firm in Lubbock. “So many of them were passed at the beginning are handwritten commissioners court notes."

To find out if your county has a stock law, your best bet is to contact the county clerk, which is what Hockley County Sheriff Ray Scifres did after that deadly accident on Jan. 11.

“You have to go through the county’s registers to see, did they hold an election, and is it part of the county that was elected as being close range or was it the entire county? This is something that was done roughly 80 years ago in most of these counties,” Scifres said.

After some research, Scifres said it looks like Hockley County voted to be close range in 1932.

Scifres said regardless of the election, there can be liability on behalf of the livestock owner if the animals get out and cause a crash on a state or U.S. Highway. "It’s a Class C offense,” he added.

According to Hockley County’s records, deputies responded to 161 loose livestock calls from Jan. 1, 2018 to Jan. 16, 2019.

Yoakum County responded to more than 200 calls while Lynn County responded to 140.

Out of the 254 counties in Texas, there are 22 that are prohibited from conducting a stock election, meaning they must remain open range.

A handful of those counties are in West Texas: Andrews, Motley, Terry and Yoakum.

Couts is not representing anyone in this Hockley County fatal crash, but we asked him what an attorney would look for when it comes to a crash involving livestock.

Couts said the first step is looking to see if the county has a stock law.

Next, you have to look at the animal involved. “The stock laws have to be animal specific."

Couts said it is important to also look at the standard set for the owner of the animals.

“Is he required to keep his animals pinned no matter what, or is there some level of intent?"

Scifres said he has never had problems with the owner of the cow involved in January 11′s fatal crash, and that is something his office looks at when determining if a citation will be given.

Scifres said most livestock owners work quickly if they learn one of their animals is loose.

As for the driver in this crash, Scifres said it does not appear he was irresponsible, so no citation was given.

Scifres wants to remind people to call law enforcement as soon as you see livestock on the road to help prevent crashes.

Click here to learn more about the agriculture code.

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