If you have any doubt that the Wild West is still alive in Arizona, a new court ruling could change that.
In a unanimous decision, the state Court of Appeals concluded that if you hit a bull or a cow crossing the road, it’s pretty much your fault. Put another way, cattle are presumed to have the right of way.
Charles “Doc” Lane, lobbyist for the Arizona Cattle Growers Association, said the ruling should come as no surprise.
Lane said all land in Arizona is presumed to be “open range.”
In essence, that means the owners of cattle don’t need to fence them in. And if you don’t want cattle on your property, you have to fence them out.
So a homeowner who doesn’t want a neighbor’s cattle chewing on the flowers is responsible for building the fence.
In this case, it means drivers have to watch for what might wander into their path unless a fence is built along the road.
That’s what happened to Ronald and Tonya Brookover who in 2003 were driving from Phoenix to their home in Salome. They struck a cow on a two-lane road, causing their vehicle to roll and land on its roof.
The road went through land being leased by Roberts Enterprises, which had not constructed fences along the road. There was no prior record of any crashes between cars and cattle on that stretch.
The Brookovers acknowledged they had seen cattle along the road, though not in that area.
A trial judge threw out the case, based on the concept of open range. The couple then appealed, saying that, at the very least, they should have had the opportunity to have a court look at the specifics of this case.
But appellate Judge Jon Thompson disagreed.
Thompson said the law is that cattle owners owe a “duty of ordinary care” to motorists traveling on public roads. But he said that has to be measured “in light of the apparent risk.”
He said while there is evidence the company knew that paved roads meant an increased risk of cattle-car collisions, there was no evidence of any crashes in the vicinity.
Lane said there are circumstances in which the owner of cattle could be held responsible for crashes.
For example, he said a rancher who puts a water tank on the opposite side of the road from the grazing area could be presumed to be taking actions that unnecessarily endanger the traveling public.