Woman's story of hitting a cow illustrates how the cattle industry bears no responsibility for letting it's cattle stand in roadways. Video by IdahoOnYourSide.comvideo
Imagine driving down a dark country highway when all of a sudden a black cow appears right in your path. Sounds like a recipe for disaster, doesn't it?
It nearly was for one local woman who hit a dairy cow. She suffered significant injuries, but even if she died, Idaho law says she's at fault. We're on your side to ask if a law that's older than cars is fair or just hopelessly out of date.
Vicky Dentinger is lucky to be alive.
"I looked down and looked up and there was this thing," she said. She hit a holstein cow on Highway 30 outside Hyers Dairy near New Plymouth.
"I was waiting for the pain," Dentinger said. The speed limit is 65 as you crest the hill.
"There was no way I was going to survive this one," she said. But somehow she did, and Vicki suffered serious injuries to her face, arms and torso. Her van was totalled.
"This was an accident I didn't provoke." says Dentinger. But Idaho has a law that states that ranchers have no duty to keep animals from highways in free range areas which includes just about anywhere outside of cities villages and herd districts. And in fact, if you hit an animal there, you can be held liable for all costs, even if you're badly injured.
"It is the way the law is written," said Jared Meyers, a third generation dairyman who says his family never had this problem in the old days.
"We were on a dead end street three miles out of New Plymouth and now traffic goes by 65 miles per hour," he said. He carries insurance on his cows, but primarily to protect his own property. He says if you hold ranchers and dairy's liable for their cows, people might hit them on purpose.
"Potentially, a person could go and intentionally hit a cow to have his vehicle paid for by the rancher," he said. The free range law dates back to before the automobile.
"It's completely unfair and archaic it dates from the 1800's and it's long past time for that to change." says Jon Marvel of the Idaho Watersheds Project. Marvel tried to overturn idaho's law a couple times but he says the cattle industry is just too strong.
"The obligation is on the injured party to show negligence so the system is set up to enable ranchers to avoid being held accountable for much of anything." he says. "You have no say," says Dentinger, "It's just oops you were at the wrong place at the wrong time."
"People do die," she said. "I was lucky. I was very lucky." Ranchers say it would be cost prohibitive to fence their cattle in. But in Florida, which has a half billion dollar cattle industry, ranchers must fence their cows in and can be held liable for accidents involving their animals. Despite that, the Florida cattle industry is thriving.