“Beware of Bull”

Bull owners must be careful to avoid liability when selling their bulls in Missouri. When engaging in the purchasing of a bull, there is a reasonable standard of care owed to the purchaser, as they are likely considered to be an invitee if on the owner’s property. If this reasonable standard of care is not met, the seller of the bull may be found to be negligent.

The relevant statute in Missouri regarding livestock and in this case, bulls, is Mo. Rev. § 537.325. Mo. Rev. § 537.325.2 states that a person or corporation “shall not be liable for an injury to or the death of a participant resulting from the inherent risks of equine or livestock activities…” However, the same statute states that any livestock owner can be held liable if they fail “to use that degree of care that an ordinarily careful and prudent person would use under the same or similar circumstances.” Mo. Rev. Mo. Rev. § 537.325.4(6).

In Rosales v. Benjamin Equestrian Ctr., LLC, Plaintiff was at an equestrian center with a family friend and was asked to move by a horse handler while a horse was being unloaded. 597 S.W.3d 669, 672. The horse was then unloaded and in the process of being brushed when it unexpectedly reared up and fell on Plaintiff, fracturing her pelvis. Id. at 672-73. The Court held that § 537.325.4(6) states the general standard of care in negligence cases… Id. at 675. This standard is that the owner owes the degree of care that an ordinary careful and prudent person would use under the same or similar circumstances. The court also defined the implied assumption of risk: “[implied assumption of risk] applies ‘when the risk arises from the circumstances and it completely bars recovery by a plaintiff who knowingly and voluntarily encounters that risk.’” Id. at 678. The ultimate holding of this case is that Defendant was found to be negligent and the injury to Plaintiff was enhanced by Defendant’s negligence. Id. Therefore, Defendant is not immune from liability pursuant to the plain language of §537.325 Id. The reason for this: Plaintiff did not assume the risk of injury where that risk was enhanced by Defendant’s negligence. Id. This case shows the importance for owners of bulls and livestock to handle their own animals to the best of their abilities to avoid liability, as one of their animals may act unpredictably.  

The process of purchasing a bull and other livestock can also lead to liability for the owner of the animal. In Duren v. Kunkel, Plaintiff purchased a bull at a sale from Defendant. 814 S.W.2d 935, 936 (Mo. 1991). After purchasing the bull, Defendant instructed Plaintiff to move the bull out of the corral. Id. Plaintiff then proceeded attempting to move the bull out of the corral. Id. However, when doing so, Plaintiff drove the bull out and at that point, the bull turned and attacked Plaintiff. Id. Plaintiff was then knocked unconscious and sustained substantial and permanent injuries. Id. Plaintiff claimed that he was an invitee of Defendant. Id. The court held this to be correct and Defendant’s liability is measured by its duty to an invitee. Id. Furthermore, the court describes the duty owed to invitees: “The duty owed to invitees includes the duty to eliminate or warn of dangerous conditions of which the defendant knows or in the exercises of reasonable care should have known.” Id. Additionally, the court states that, “one who owns or possesses a bull may be found to have actual or constructive knowledge of the animal’s normally dangerous propensities and be required to take reasonable steps to prevent foreseeable harm to invitees and employees. Id. at 939. Defendant argued that there is no duty owed to warn Plaintiff of that which he already knows or should know. Id. However, the Court held that, “[w]hether Plaintiff knew of the danger or by using ordinary care could have known of the danger is an issue that, under comparative fault, does not defeat Plaintiff’s claim, but leaves the assessment of fault to the jury.” Id.

To conclude, when a bull owner fails to use a reasonable degree of care for invitees, they can be held liable for negligence and may not be immune from liability, even if their bulls are considered to be dangerous and the purchaser has extensive knowledge and experience in purchasing bulls.

Jill S. Bollwerk
Helping St. Louis area residents with personal injury, workers' compensation & insurance appeals/disputes.