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Court Holds that a Landowner was Not Liable for Injuries to Motorists

Personal injury lawyer claims based on the negligence of others causing the losses suffered by victims rely on previous cases that have been decided in Arizona by the appellate and Supreme Courts. In one 2007 decision, a ranch owner was not held liable to two motorists who struck the owner’s cow, after it wandered onto the highway, upon which the two motorists were traveling. When the personal injury attorneys at Cantor Injury Lawyers review the facts and circumstances of prospective clients’ claims, they do so with an eye to prior decisions in order to determine the likelihood of success.

The Case

In Brookover v. Roberts, 1 CA-CV 05-0444 (Ariz. 2007), the plaintiffs’ case involved hitting a cow in open range land on Salome Highway. A husband and wife, Ronald and Tonya Brookover, were driving on the highway at a speed of around 55 mph. Mr. Brookover spotted one cow ahead of the vehicle and slowed, but he still struck another cow that he was unable to avoid. After striking that second cow with the front-right part of the car, the vehicle rolled over, landing on its roof.

Both the husband and wife suffered injuries, and after determining that the cow was owned by Roberts Enterprises, Inc., a ranch, they filed a lawsuit naming the rancher as the defendant. The rancher was leasing a portion of open range land called the Clem Allotment for cattle-grazing purposes. The plaintiffs alleged in their complaint that the rancher was negligent because he did not prevent his cows from entering the highway, a two-lane road with traffic lanes running in either direction.

The defendant filed a motion for summary judgment with the trial court. He argued that the 1990 Arizona Supreme Court decision in Carrow Co. v. Lusby, 167 Ariz. 18 (Ariz. 1990), precluded the court as a matter of law from finding the defendant negligent for not stopping his cows from wandering onto the road. In the Carrow case, the Supreme Court defined the duties owed by livestock owners to motorists passing through open land.

The Brookovers argued in their response that there were material facts in dispute regarding whether the presence of the cows on the highway resulted from the rancher’s failure to keep them off of the road. The trial court granted summary judgment in favor of the rancher. The Brookovers then filed an appeal.

In affirming the trial court’s decision, the appellate court agreed that owners of livestock are not legally responsible when cows wander onto roads running through open-range country for any injury accidents that might occur. The court ruled it was not sufficient to show that a livestock owner simply knows the risks because of their experience with roadways and ranches. The court also found that the Brookovers were on notice of the potential danger because they were aware that cattle had sometimes been present along other sections of Salome Highway. The appellate ruling meant the Brookovers were unable to recover damages from the rancher.

Negligence Standard

In order to prove a claim based on negligence, plaintiffs must be able to show by a preponderance of the evidence four elements. First, they must demonstrate that the other person owed them a duty of care. Second, they must demonstrate that the person breached that duty of care. Third, they must prove that the duty’s breach was the cause of injuries that the plaintiffs suffered.  And finally the plaintiff must prove damages.  For cattle owners in open range country, the Carrow court held that a rancher’s failure to keep their cattle from wandering onto highways and causing accidents was not enough to demonstrate negligence.

Summary Judgment

In Arizona, summary judgment in a civil lawsuit may be granted by a trial court when there are “no genuine issues of any material fact and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Ariz. R. Civ. P. 56(c). When a defense motion for summary judgment is granted, it ends the plaintiff’s lawsuit through dismissal of the action. It is thus highly important for plaintiffs to make certain their complaints are based upon legal grounds and that the pleadings are drafted correctly. If it is determined that there are no facts are in dispute, an plaintiff’s claim will be dismissed.

If you were injured in an accident caused at least in part by the actions of another person, you may need to get legal help when drafting your complaint and proceeding with your lawsuit. To schedule your free initial consultation with Cantor Injury Lawyers, click on the “Schedule a Free Consultation” link or call (602) 254-2701.

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