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Liability burden shifted away from livestock owners during veto session

Cattle head to a barn.
Donna Korando | St. Louis Beacon | 2013

Owners of animals in Missouri that cause property damage are no longer liable unless negligence can be proven in court.

The new law took effect Wednesday when the House and Senate overrode Gov. Jay Nixon's veto.  Senate Bill 844 was sponsored by Sen. Mike Parson, R-Bolivar, who's also running for lieutenant governor.

"If the farmer or rancher is neglectable in keeping up his fences or not taking care of his property, he's still liable," Parson said during floor debate.  "The majority of the time somebody runs through a fence, and either the car is still there or they leave, and if the livestock get out then all of a sudden the farmer is liable for all of the damages that should occur … but simply what this says (is) if he absolutely did nothing wrong he should not be held responsible for that simply because he owns livestock."

In his original veto message, Nixon said that nothing in the old law prevented livestock owners from pursuing action against a third party.

Republican Sen. Rob Schaaf of St. Joseph sided with the Democratic governor and opposed the measure.

Schaaf read from Nixon's veto letter, "Under Senate Bill 844, the victim of the animal rampage would be left without recourse, despite playing no role in causing the damage, unless negligence on the part of either the owner of the animals or a third party can be proven," to which Schaff added, "that's going to be hard to do."

"Even if the farmer was negligent, it may be difficult to prove it under the standard of (what) the court would require," he said.  "There will be people that are denied justice as a result of this bill."

Supporters argued that livestock owners should not be held liable if their cattle escape because a motorist crashed into their fence, which they said happens often.  The bill also sparked heated debate among fellow Republicans on the Senate floor before the override vote was taken. 

Parson later took a swipe at Schaaf, saying "it's a little disappointing when a guy that doesn't know anything about farming, or cattle, or ranchers, (is) trying to explain how our lifestyle is, and wants to argue a point when he probably wouldn't know the difference between a Hereford and an Angus."

Schaaf indirectly shot back at Parson while arguing with another senator:

"When the cow tramples the next door neighbor's corn field, and destroys his crop of corn because the cows got out and destroyed the crop of corn, it doesn't matter whether they're an Angus or a Hereford!  It doesn't matter; the corn is just as flat, senator!"

That comment came during a heated exchange between Schaaf and Dave Schatz, R-Sullivan, who supported the bill.  That exchange can be heard here:

In the end, the Senate overrode Nixon's veto 24-7.  The House override vote was 114-40.

Follow Marshall Griffin on Twitter:  @MarshallGReport

Marshal was a political reporter for St. Louis Public Radio until 2018.

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