"Have you gone and put the stock sign past the woolshed?"
"Sorry, forgot I did. I put one out at this end, but not at the other end." "Okay, it will be all right."
Conversations like this occur on a daily basis on farms throughout our region. Most farmers would see the common sense in notifying motorists that they are moving stock on the road.
However, a recent High Court decision highlights the importance of proper procedures when moving stock and/or keeping stock in paddocks next to roads.
In 2014 a truck and trailer was travelling south towards Raetihi when it collided with 17 angus cattle from the neighbouring farm.
The driver was uninjured, but there was extensive damage to the truck and trailer totalling about $273,000.
The company that owned the truck and trailer sued the farmer for a breach of his duty to ensure the cattle were adequately fenced off and secured.
At issue was the reasonableness of precautions taken by the farmer to prevent the stock straying on the road. What was reasonable was to be assessed according to the common practice in that region.
The plaintiffs argued that due to the gates not having a gudgeon, the farmer for sake of ease simply left a tape across the gateway.
The farmer disputed this and said he had a hotwire and the gate was wired shut.
However, on the evidence, the court preferred the truck owner's evidence that the gate was secured only by a string of hotwire.
On this basis the court found that the farmer had not taken all reasonable care to secure his livestock.
He was found liable for the full cost of damage to the truck and trailer. Luckily for him he had taken out a comprehensive public liability insurance and it was the insurer who was to pay.
This case underlines the importance of following the recommended procedure for the moving of stock on a road and the keeping of stock adjacent to a road.
Beef and Lamb New Zealand Inc recommends the following:
1. Road cones and/or stock warning signs. Ensure they are in place so that motorists have enough time to stop. The NZTA says signs should be visible at a distance that is three times the speed limited (therefore most likely to be 300m).
2. If moving a mob down a road, there is to be a front and back stockperson. Preferably the back and the front should be able to communicate to each other via telephone or walkie-talkie.
3. No movement is to occur during night time or where visibility is less than 100 metres.
4. Stock is to be kept moving at all times.
Farmers should also be aware that there are subsidies available for those who wish to install underpasses under roads where they are moving stock over the same piece of road daily.
It has been common practice for many years to graze the roadside using a hotwire, especially so in winter months before spring growth has occurred.
The case discussed above demonstrates that a hotwire is not sufficient and farmers should bear this in mind when conducting the practice.
The movement of stock along and across roads is subject to a range of guidelines, bylaws.
District Plan requirements and common law duties. if you have any questions on your legal liability, you should consult with your council and your solicitors.
*Andrew Thomas, Treadwell Gordon