Ohio Legislature revises law for livestock running loose

New law establishes clear standards for liability, adds alpacas, llamas and bison

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.

In addition to addressing the standards for liability, the revised animals at large law also:

  • Adds llamas, alpacas and bison to the list of animals addressed in the liability provisions, which already included horses, mules, cattle, sheep, goats, swine and geese.
  • Also adds llamas, alpacas and bison to the law’s provisions for taking, confinement and care of animals running at large.
  • Removes a separate liability provision for male breeding animals; male breeding animals will now fall under the same liability section of the law as other animals.
  • Revises a similar civil liability provision for livestock in Ohio’s line fence law to clarify that negligence is the requisite standard of liability under that law.

The governor signed H.B. 22 on June 21, 2011; the law takes effect on September 20, 2011.  View H.B. 22 here.

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2 Comments

Filed under Animals

2 responses to “Ohio Legislature revises law for livestock running loose

  1. Sarah

    This article is most helpful – thank you! But is there another law that requires the owner to repair his fence? We have a neighbor who is aware of his horses escaping through a back fence, but refuses to do anything about it. His four horses run everyone else’s land, including crossing the road to other our property as well. I don’t want to wait until the horses do something reckless before being able to do something about it.

    Is there anything we can do now, to ensure that he keeps them penned?

    • If the fence is a “line fence” that is on the property line between two properties, you may be able to use the line fence law to require the neighbor to maintain the fence. Check with your township trustees, or see our resources on Ohio’s Line Fence Law at http://go.osu.edu/aglaw. Sometimes, the county sheriff is willing to issue a “warning” rather than a citation for animals at large; you might also consider that option.

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