(CN) – A farm whose calf wandered into the road is not liable for the car-collision death of a woman who tried to help the animal, a New York court ruled.
Holly Hain stopped her car in the southbound lane of Curtis Coopers Road in Steuben County when she saw a newborn calf that had escaped from a farm owned by Drumm Family Farm Inc.
Hain and the calf were in the northbound lane when they were hit by a car driven by Leah Jamison.
Hain’s husband, Andrew, sued Jamison and her mother Angela, who owned the car, for personal injury and wrongful death. He also sued Drumm Family Farm for negligence.
The farm moved for dismissal of the case, but the trial court denied the motion.
However, Drumm Farm succeeded when it took the case to the Rochester-based Fourth Department New York Appellate Division, which overturned the ruling by a 3-1 decision.
The justices noted that the owner of an animal can be found negligent for allowing it to stray from the property, but they stated that the farm did not cause the fatal accident.
“Drumm Farm established that any negligence on its part in allowing the calf to escape merely created the opportunity for plaintiff to be standing in the roadway, but it did not cause her to stand there,” the justices wrote.
“Importantly, plaintiff does not contend, and did not submit any evidence that would establish, that the calf’s presence in the road blocked decedent’s ability to travel in the southbound lane or otherwise forced decedent to stop her vehicle,” they added.
Justice Gerald J. Whalen dissented from his colleagues, stating that Drumm Farm had the burden of proving that the calf did not block the road.
“It is impossible to determine from the evidence in the record whether the calf was on the shoulder of the road or in the travel lane, and thus it is equally impossible whether the calf’s presence placed decedent in a position of danger,” he wrote.
“If the calf was in a position that forced decedent to stop her vehicle on the curve of a dark country road, she would have been in a ‘position of peril’ regardless of whether she remained in the vehicle,” he added.
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