Collisions with animals are a common cause of car accidents. The vast majority of these involve deer, whose large size and speedy movements make them very dangerous to motorists on rural highways. Domestic animals like dogs and cats are frequently hit by cars as well, however, and the accident can cause damage to vehicles and severe injuries or death to the animals.

A pet-related motor vehicle crash can be a very emotionally-charged event for everyone involved. The owner may be upset and grieving because of the loss of the pet, while the driver might feel distraught, guilty and concerned about the cost of repairs. Fortunately, car insurance does cover this type of accident; unfortunately, depending on the circumstances, not everything will be paid for.

Causes of Pet-Related Car Accidents

Different animals behave differently around cars. Cats are hit most often at night; they mistake the beams of the car’s headlights for the car itself, and will often dart out in front of the vehicle’s wheels before the driver has time to stop. Dogs are much more likely to run into the street while chasing something, such as a ball or small animal.

There are other common causes of pets being involved in collisions with cars:

  • The animal jumps free of a pickup truck bed or out the window of a passing car
  • The pet panics and breaks loose from their owner
  • The animal is running loose and does not notice the car
  • The animal is attempting to chase a car away from its property
  • The pet’s owner abandons it on the side of the road and the pet is attempting to pursue its master

Depending on the reason the pet was loose in the road, the liability for the accident may change. In some cases, liability is always decided in a specific way; in other cases, both parties involved will be assessed for negligence by the insurance company when deciding who should be at fault for the accident.

Who is Liable for a Dog vs Car Accident?

Officially, accidents wit animals are comprehensive claims, not collisions, meaning that they are not considered to be anyone’s fault. Animal-based accidents are the only collision-type losses that are handled under comprehensive coverage, and this is because animals are unpredictable and obviously cannot be held personally liable for damages.

When an accident is caused by a domesticated animal, however, the pet’s owner may be found liable for failure to control the animal. This will vary from state to state. In some areas, leash laws and other ordinances make an owner responsibility for a pet’s actions, and if that pet causes an accident, the owner is liable for the resulting claim. In these situations, the owner can be sued for damages, required to pay the driver’s deductible or file a claim against a personal umbrella policy.

Other states work differently. In these areas, the responsibility to avoid an animal rests squarely on the driver’s shoulders, and colliding with a person’s pet or livestock requires the driver to pay for the loss of the animal. Some states even require a driver to pay for subsequent generations of lost offspring in the case of animals that make up a person’s livelihood, like cattle.

Who Pays the Pet’s Veterinary Expenses?

Pets are unique in the eyes of insurance. They’re considered to be property, so they cannot be covered under a family’s medical insurance or medical coverages on their auto policy, but they also are not covered under homeowner’s insurance like other types of property. Although some liability insurance policies will cover animals, this is not widespread or consistently applied.

Because these laws vary from one state to the next, it’s important to file a claim and let a licensed adjuster assess the situation and determine what to do. In some states, you may only be reimbursed for your lost animal if that animal makes up your livelihood, whereas other states may extend coverage to pets.

You should never count on another person’s liability insurance to pay for veterinary expenses or the loss of a pet, even if you believe that the driver is at fault for the accident. Depending on your situation, you may find it worthwhile to buy pet insurance to help pay for emergency veterinary expenses. Just be sure that the policy will cover injuries caused by accidental trauma and be sure to let the driver’s insurance company know that you are using pet insurance in case that will have an impact on any claim settlement payments.