Last October, Justice Robert Maranger presided over the biggest criminal case in Canada: the Shafia “honour killing” trial in Kingston, Ont. One year later, in a different courtroom, his Honour was asked to rule on another pressing legal question: If a cow wanders onto a road, and is hit by a car, who is liable?
The plaintiff, Graham Burn, was driving on County Road 10, in the township of Beckwith, when he steered into such a scenario last September. As the judge described it, “he collided with a large cow located on the roadway.” Burn sued a nearby property owner, Yasmin Aikman, claiming that “she failed to properly confine” the wandering animal. But Burn also sued the township and surrounding county of Lanark, alleging they should have ensured the owner “properly secured the cow.”
On Oct. 12, lawyers for the town and the county asked Maranger to strike all the allegations against them. He agreed. “The duty of care alleged by the plaintiff in this case is one that has never been recognized in law,” the judge ruled. “It is not a reasonable proposition to expect that municipalities would patrol roadways to prevent animals from escaping private property or inspect privately owned fences to make sure that animals do not escape onto public roadways.” Besides, the judge wrote, bylaws already govern straying animals, and it’s the animal owner’s responsibility to abide by them.
In other words, if the driver milks any money from his lawsuit, it will come from the cow’s owner—not taxpayers.