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Now that Illinois fields have been cleared of crops, there’s plenty of room for livestock to wander off their range to nibble on grain debris splattered from the combines.

Suppose you’re driving down the road and out jumps somebody’s goat, causing you to crash. Who can you sue for your injuries caused by the hooligan goat?

There has long been an Illinois law called the Domestic Animals Running At Large Act. It says that an owner or keeper of livestock shall not allow their livestock to run at large in Illinois. But the owner or keeper will not be liable for injury to another person or their property from an estray livestock, without knowledge of the estray animal, if the owner can show they used reasonable care in trying to restrain such animal.

Thus, if the owner has knowledge of the livestock being on the loose, he/she might be on the legal hook for an injury. But, even if he/she didn’t have knowledge, such owner or keeper needed to have used reasonable care to restrain the livestock.

Typically, this means putting up fences that are maintained.

Suppose you have a well-kept fence to corral your palomino colt. But Mr. Ed is a real jumper and leaps over the fence to freedom and inflicts injury on others.

Liability? Maybe a higher fence was needed?

These would be the questions for the jury in the lawsuit filed against you as Mr. Ed’s owner.

What if a neighbor helped you maintain the fence which failed to keep Mr. Ed corralled? Is that neighbor liable to the injured party under the Animals Running Act? Or liable to you under the Act for your liability to the injured party?

Nope. So said the Illinois Supreme Court in a recent ruling. The court said that only an owner or keeper of the livestock is liable under the Animals Running Act. There is no common law duty by a non-owner/keeper for his/her neighbor’s livestock running at large.

A land owner who leases the land to an owner/keeper of livestock is also not liable under the Animals Running Act.

If a neighbor had an agreement with a livestock owner for shared maintenance of a fence in question, and the livestock owner ends up liable to another because their livestock got through the fence, is the neighbor liable to the livestock owner under the shared maintenance agreement?

If the livestock owner/keeper can show the failure to maintain the fence was the responsibility of the neighbor under that agreement, the livestock owner might, just might, have a claim against the neighbor for breach of contract to reimburse the owner for the money paid to the injured third party. But that hinges on exactly what the agreement terms were regarding the fence.

Of course, hooligan goats and loping Mr. Eds having nothing on the pernicious deer that roam the roads this time of year.

Stay watchful. Some could be refugees from Indiana planted here by Hoosiers to disrupt the Illinois transportation system.

How about we fund another fence to keep them out?

The deer, I mean.

And the Hoosiers.

Brett Kepley is a lawyer with Land of Lincoln Legal Aid, Inc. You can send your questions to The Law Q&A, 302 N. First St., Champaign, IL 61820. Questions may be edited for space.