Measure of Damages in Cases Involving Income-Producing Livestock

May 2, 2012

On occasion a farmer may experience an injury to, or complete loss of, an income-producing farm animal due to someone else’s negligence. The first task, of course, is to recognize the problem. The death of an animal is obvious and sometimes an injury is equally obvious. For example, there have been cases where big-city hunters have somehow mistaken dairy cows for deer. In such a case, the injury or death of a farm animal at the hands of a hunter is easy to recognize. Some other cases, however, may not be so easy to recognize. There are cases where farm animals may sustain an injury due to “bad” feed or rations, stray electricity or a malfunctioning milking machine. Losses in these cases may be more subtle, manifested through reduced milk production or widespread health problems in the herd.

Once the problem is identified, the next task is to determine who is at fault. While a farmer may sincerely believe that someone else is at fault for the problems, the farmer should first be certain that farm practices or other less obvious influences are not to blame. For example, the farmer should make sure that the water supply is not tainted or that a change in feeding or milking practices are not blame. Sometimes a significant change to the size of the herd or shelter can stress the animal, causing problems that might appear to be someone else’s fault. If, following an investigation, the farmer concludes that the problems were caused by someone else then the farmer may decide to pursue legal action against that person or entity.

If the farmer is able to show that someone else is at fault for the injury or death to the income-producing farm animal, the next question is what is the farmer’s remedy? There are a number of Wisconsin cases that address the remedies available to the farmer. The primary cases areRosche v. Wayne Feed Division, 152 Wis. 2d 78, 447 N.W.2d 94 (Ct. App. 1989) and Schrubbe v. Peninsula Veterinary Service, 204 Wis. 2d 37, 552 N.W.2d 634 (Ct. App. 1996). These cases are not new but they continue to be good law. Generally, these cases hold as follows. The basic measure of damages for dead and injured livestock is the difference in the animal’s market value before and after the injury was incurred. Specifically, the damages are determined by the animal’s market value, determined by its replacement cost, with an appropriate reduction for any salvage value. The cases specifically hold that the farmer may not seek additional damages for the loss of offspring that the injured animal may have produced in the future. The market value of the animal takes into account its reproductive capabilities. If the dead or injured animal is an income-producing animal like a cow, the farmer may be able to recover for the lost use of the animal until it can reasonably be replaced. In such a case the farmer earns income from the animal’s milk production, so the famer may be entitled to recover for the lost production of the dairy cow until it can reasonably be replaced by another income-generating cow. In short, if a dairy cow is injured due to someone else’s negligence, the farmer may be able to recover the market value of the cow at the time of the injury, minus the cull value of the cow, plus some reasonable amount for its lost milk production until the cow can reasonably be replaced.

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