There are many areas in Maryland where wild animals cross the roads regularly. Even in some places in downtown Baltimore, wild animals like raccoons or stray dogs can dart out into the street, especially at night. In some cases, the driver is not able to avoid the wild animal and ends up hitting it. In other cases, the driver is able to avoid the animal, but their evasive maneuvering causes a car accident with another vehicle or with a stationary object like a tree or light pole.
In the aftermath of such a situation, the inevitable question arises: who is responsible?
The answer depends on whether the animal was really a wild one, and on whether the resulting crash implicated other vehicles or stationary objects, or if it was just the driver hitting the animal. These details can change how insurance companies will apportion responsibility and therefore liability.
Accidents Involving Wild Animals or Domestic Animals
When it comes to who was responsible for a car accident, those that were caused by a wild animal in the road are treated very differently from those that were caused by a domestic animal in it. Accidents that were caused by a domestic animal are typically the responsibility of the animal's owner because the owner is expected to keep it under control and out of the roadway. This is true, regardless of what kind of animal it is—dog, cat, horse, cow, or pet tiger.
When the accident is caused by a wild animal, though, there is no negligent owner to take his or her share of the responsibility for the crash. This means the responsibility for the crash—and therefore the costs associated with it—can fall on you, the driver.
What Happens If You Hit a Wild Animal
The least severe outcome that can happen is if you hit the wild animal but manage to avoid hitting anything or anyone else.
In these cases, your insurance company should step in to cover the damages to your vehicle and the costs of any injuries you suffered in the crash. However, the amount that your insurance company will cover, if they will even step in at all, depends on the type of car insurance you have, the particular terms of your insurance policy, and the exact nature of the damage the crash caused.
For example, if you do not have comprehensive coverage and you hit a bird and crack your windshield, you may have to pay for the costs of replacing the windshield because it is often not included in non-comprehensive insurance policies. Even if your insurance does cover your windshield, your policy may have a high deductible that needs to be met before your insurance company will pay for any damages at all.
What Happens When a Wild Animal Causes a Collision
Things get a bit more complex if the crash did not just involve a driver hitting a wild animal. If a driver swerves to avoid the animal and either crashes their car in a single-vehicle accident or into another car to create a multi-vehicle crash, the driver is likely to be found responsible for the accident, and therefore liable for its costs.
The reason for putting the liability on the driver in these situations is that, even though it is terrible to run over or into a wild animal, the law finds it unreasonable to put the lives of other human beings at risk in an attempt to miss the animal. And while it might seem like the accident was caused by the wild animal darting out in front of the driver's car, the law has decided that the driver still had an opportunity to avoid the car crash by simply hitting the animal instead. This opportunity might have only lasted a split second and might have run against our natural instincts as drivers to avoid other objects, but the law has determined that it is enough to lead to responsibility and liability.
How to Help Yourself, If You Have Hit a Wild Animal
While car accidents are impossible to predict, and people rarely think about what would happen if they got into a car crash because of a wild animal, there are a few things that you can do to help yourself, should the situation ever arise.
The first thing to do is to get adequate car insurance for your vehicle that will cover crashes caused by wild animals. This is especially important if you live in the suburbs of Baltimore or in rural Maryland and you regularly drive along dark and secluded roads that have lots of wildlife around them. Having this coverage can make a big difference if you ever get into a crash.
Another step to take happens after the crash has occurred. If you were driving and an animal jumps into your path and you hit it, pull over to the side of the road not only to see how badly your vehicle has been damaged but also to find the animal. While it is rarely wise to approach a wounded animal, it is important to see whether it is a wild animal or a domestic one. If you see identification tags on it, then the animal likely has an owner whose negligence in letting their pet into the roadway could mean you will not be held liable for the accident.
Gilman & Bedigian: Personal Injury Lawyers in Baltimore
Accidents involving wild animals can be tricky because there is a factor involved that is rarely present in other car crashes. This can confuse many drivers who get into these kinds of accidents. However, insurance companies and personal injury attorneys see them all the time and understand how to handle them.
If you have been involved in a crash that included a wild animal or that happened because of one, you need legal assistance to make sure your rights and interests are protected. Contact the Baltimore law office of Gilman & Bedigian online for the help you need.