Unattended Dog Standing in the Street

Who’s Liable When a Dog is Hit by a Car?

As a dog owner, you always strive to protect your pet and keep them safe. However, despite the efforts and best intentions of even the most experienced owners, sometimes a situation arises where a pet is exposed to danger. According to a study put together by Pet Playgrounds, approximately 1.2 million dogs are killed by motor vehicles in the U.S. every year. Even if a dog is fortunate enough to survive being struck by a car, it is almost certain that they will suffer serious injuries in the collision.

We hope that you never have to deal with the aftermath of your beloved pet being hit by a car. However, if your pet is involved in a collision, we put together this guide to help you understand how liability is determined in such a situation. Please note that this guide does not cover all possible scenarios and seek out experienced, local counsel for your unique case.

How Are Dogs Struck by Motor Vehicles?

Dogs tend to be curious, even if they spend most of their time indoors. Your dog may see something they want to chase, such as the neighbor’s cat or a squirrel. Unfortunately, this can put them in danger if they incidentally put themselves in the path of an oncoming car. If the driver is traveling over the speed limit or is distracted, they may find themselves unable to stop their car in time to avoid a collision. In some cases, a dog may unexpectedly run out in front of a motor vehicle, leaving the driver no way to avoid striking them.

In some cases, dogs and other pets may sleep underneath a parked car for warmth or safety from other animals. The car’s operator may not realize this and attempt to drive away with the animal still under the vehicle, which can easily cause serious or fatal injuries. If you or a family member park your car outside in a residential area where there are likely pets and roaming animals, you should always be sure to check under the vehicle before getting inside.

Analyzing the Circumstances of the Collision

When it comes to animal-related collisions, the underlying circumstances of the crash are incredibly important. Was a dog running free without supervision? Was the responsible motorist driving safely or recklessly at the time of the crash? Were there any underlying factors (low visibility, a poorly designed road, etc.) that played a role in the accident? We discuss some of the animal-related situations that can potentially arise.

  • Unsupervised pet: In most cases, it is a pet owner’s responsibility to protect their dog from traffic. They can do so by using a proper leash, keeping their dog supervised, and ensuring that any open yard space is surrounded by a fence of an appropriate durability and height. Many counties have leash laws that require pets of all types to be tethered to their owner while in public. If an unsupervised pet is struck by a car, it is likely that the owner will be responsible for any ensuing medical bills and potentially even damages to the car.
  • Distracted or impaired driver: A driver’s behavior can determine whether they bear some responsibility for striking someone’s dog. If a driver is on their phone and not paying attention to the road, for example, they may be found responsible for causing a collision that could have reasonably been avoided. Another reason that a driver may be found at least partially liable is if they were impaired at the time of the accident. According to the Rosenstein Law Group, responding officers may begin an investigation into whether the driver was under the influence in the event of a serious accident.
  • Livestock collision: Although not specifically dog-related, livestock crashes do occur with some regularity around farms and in rural areas, so we wanted to discuss this scenario as well. A livestock crash will almost always cause substantially more damage than a collision between a motor vehicle and a household pet. Full-grown cows can weight more than 1,500 pounds and an adult bull can weigh more than 2,000 pounds. Striking one of these animals at a high speed is oftentimes enough to cause serious damage to a car and catastrophic injuries to its passengers.

Does Car Insurance Cover Hitting a Dog or Other Animal?

State laws on pet ownership vary, but many states consider dogs as property when it comes to insurance. If a dog is unsupervised and it runs into the road, it is likely that the owner would be responsible for paying for any ensuing vet bills. However, when a driver is acting recklessly or intentionally strikes an animal, they may be liable for the injured pet’s care. In some cases, the driver’s auto insurance policy may decline to pay for damages if the driver intentionally struck the pet with their car.

Steps to Prevent Your Dog From Being Struck by a Car

Even if you live in a remote area, chances are you and your pets encounter cars daily. To help you protect your dog from traffic, we’ve put together a list of proactive steps you can take to keep them safe.

  1. Teach “wait” and “sit” when you and your dog exit your house or come to a curb. By reinforcing these commands, you reduce the chances of your dog running into the street.
  2. Pay attention when walking your dog and use an appropriate-length lease that does not allow your pet to wander into the path of oncoming cars.
  3. Do not leave your dog unattended in your yard, even if you are confident that they cannot escape. Be particularly mindful of where your dog is during holidays, when your dog might be more stressed or afraid than usual.
  4. Check your surrounding when arriving at or leaving your residence. Verify that there is not an animal under your car before starting the engine and make sure that there are no pets in your path as you back up or park your vehicle.
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