Livestock owners and keepers in Ohio will soon have less risk of automatic liability when their animals escape enclosures and run loose on public roadways or the property of others. The Ohio legislature has revised the "animals running at large" law to clarify two different standards for criminal and civil liability under the law. Criminal liability will occur only when proven that a livestock operator behaved "recklessly" in allowing the animals to run loose. Under Ohio law, a person behaves recklessly when he or she perversely disregards a known risk of his or her conduct, with heedless indifference to the consequences of that conduct. For example, a livestock owner who sees but intentionally ignores a downed fence where cattle graze near a roadway could be deemed "reckless."
The new law establishes a different standard of liability for a civil situation. A person may recover damages against a livestock owner if harm resulted because the livestock owner's "negligence" caused the animals to escape. Under Ohio law, negligence is a substantial lapse of "due care" that results in a failure to perceive or avoid a risk. For example, a livestock owner who has not checked the line fences in a grazing area for several years could be deemed "negligent."
Additionally, the revised law states that an animal being at large creates an initial presumption of negligence by the owner. The animal owner must then rebut the presumption by proving that he or she exercised due care.
The revised law should address a growing problem in Ohio, where livestock owners have been held automatically liable when their animals are found running at large-regardless of the reason for the animals' escape or any actions taken or not taken by the owner. This problem has occurred most frequently with criminal prosecutions. Owners of escaped animals have been assessed automatic criminal penalties, without having an opportunity to explain their management practices or present facts about the animals' escape. The new law remedies this problem by clarifying that criminal liability is not "automatic" simply because livestock are loose; there must be proof that the owner was reckless.
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