What If You Have No Evidence against the Livestock Owner?

If you file a lawsuit against a livestock owner for a livestock accident, your case will ultimately depend on what evidence you have to prove the owner was negligent.  That is why it is so important to make a conscious effort to garner evidence from the very beginning.  But sometimes, even with a person’s best efforts, all attempts to collect evidence may turn up empty.

What if someone is injured in a livestock accident, but then he is unable to collect any evidence to show the livestock owner was negligent.  What if upon viewing the livestock owner’s fence, everything seems perfect.  The fence is a sturdy, strong fence of adequate height.  There are no possible openings or loose wires in the fence.   Further, there are no witnesses who state that somebody carelessly left the gate open.

The injured party does not necessarily have no chance of succeeding in a claim under these circumstances.  Depending on the jurisdiction, he may be able to assert a theory of res ipsa loquitur, or “the thing speaks for itself.”

Res Ipsa is a legal theory that allows a plaintiff to proceed with a negligence claim even if it lacks any direct evidence to show that the defendant was negligent.  Basically, the theory enables the plaintiff to shift the burden to the defendant, who must then produce evidence to show that he was not negligent.

There are generally three requirements you need to prove under Res Ipsa.  You need to prove:

  • That the accident is of a kind which ordinarily does not occur in the absence of someone’s carelessness;
  • That the accident was caused by something within the defendant’s exclusive control; and
  • That the accident was not due to any voluntary act by the plaintiff.

So in a livestock accident where a plaintiff has no evidence of the livestock owner’s negligence, plaintiff would contend that a livestock accident is not the type of accident that ordinarily occurs unless the livestock owner was careless; the accident was caused by the animal, which was within the exclusive control of the livestock owner; and that the accident was not caused by any willful act by the plaintiff.

Courts have previously approved  the res ipsa theory in the context of a livestock accident.  For example, in one case, a plaintiff was driving on a highway when she saw a cow. She slowed down, went around the animal, and as she did, she collided with a second cow.  Both cows belonged to the defendant.

Evidence of the farm, however, showed there were three gates to the barnyard where the cows were confined. Two of the three gates were permanently secured with rope and wire. The third gate had been equipped with a “cable clamp” device.

Moreover, witnesses stated the gates were shut on the day preceding the accident.  The Court ultimately held that the doctrine of res ipsa loquitur was applicable here, stating there was evidence that the cows were within the owner’s exclusive control and that the jury could reasonably have concluded that the cows normally could not escape from the enclosure if the gate was securely locked.  Watzig v Tobin (1982) 292 Or 645.

Keep in mind, however, other courts have rejected the theory of res ipsa loquitur.  For example, in a case involving a tank milk truck’s nighttime collision with a cow, the court stated that cattle and other domestic animals can escape from perfectly adequate confines, implying that the livestock owner is not necessarily always negligent when a livestock accident occurs.  Reed v Molnar (1981) 67 Ohio St 2d 76.