Iowa Supreme Court holds evidence insufficient to show negligence in cow-on-the-highway case

Posted on: February 8th, 2024

In the early morning hours of January 26, 2019, an errant cow escaped confinement and made its way onto I-80 in rural Cass County. Driver Simranjit Singh struck the wayward bovine with his semi-truck, causing injuries to Singh’s person and damage to his vehicle. The cow died. Singh subsequently filed a lawsuit against the departed cow’s owner, alleging that negligence was shown by “the undisputed fact that the cow strayed onto I-80 in the middle of the night and was unattended at the time that Singh’s truck collided with it.” The District Court granted the owner’s motion for summary judgment, and Singh appealed.

On further review from the Court of Appeals, the Supreme Court found that although for 70 years of Iowa’s history the mere fact that livestock was unattended on a roadway could be used to establish a prima facie case for negligence, repeal of the fencing-in statute in 1994 had led to abandonment of that theory as sufficient for recovery if left undisputed. Furthermore, because this former theory was one of statutory creation, it was not available for use in a common law negligence action. The plaintiff also argued that res ipsa loquitur applied, because (1) the cow had been under the exclusive control of the owner, and (2) in the ordinary course of things cows simply do not appear on highways lack of reasonable care by those in custody of them. However, even here the Court refused to assume that in the “ordinary course of things” cows were not able to escape a properly closed gate, and the plaintiff had not presented any evidence of a gap in the fence, malfunction with the gate, or other lack of care by the owner. As such, expert testimony would be required to establish that the cow would not have escaped if the owner had used reasonable care. Because the plaintiff had not presented testimony from an expert, the Court affirmed the grant of summary judgment.

Simranjit Ringh v. Michael Walter McDermott, Slip Op. No. 22-1337 (Iowa 2024).

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