Cows got loose on an unlit road. The crash wasn’t the owner’s fault, Florida court says

Video shows escaped cows roaming Miami Lakes

A herd of cows was spotted roaming the streets of Miami Lakes on Friday, April 12, 2019.
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A herd of cows was spotted roaming the streets of Miami Lakes on Friday, April 12, 2019.

Runaway cows on the roadways have been comedic fodder for movies and seldom fail to generate a chuckle in the news.

But for one driver in Port St. Lucie, runaway cows have been no laughing matter.

For nearly seven years, Ernest Carnahan has been in and out of the court system after he struck one or two cows while motoring down a roadway in the wee hours on Florida’s Treasure Coast.

Carnahan filed suit against the cows’ owner, Robert Norvell, seeking damages in the six figures, after Norvell’s cows escaped from his pasture and gathered in the roadway, according to the suit filed in March 2013, about five months after the Oct. 15, 2012, crash.

The beef

Carnahan can’t find it too funny after Wednesday’s decision by the Fourth District Court of Appeal that affirmed a jury’s earlier verdict finding Norvell wasn’t responsible for causing the accident, which happened at 4:45 a.m. on a stretch of unlit road.

After the crash, Carnahan sought damages from the livestock owner, citing pain, disability, disfigurement, mental anguish and loss of earnings. He told the court the crash would not have happened had Norvell locked the pasture gate.

He sued under the Warren Act, which, in the court’s language, “establishes liability for injuries due to livestock that come upon public roads due to the owner’s intentional, willful, careless, or negligent actions in permitting the livestock to ‘stray upon’ public roads.”

But the lower court, in 2017, decided that the Warren Act did not apply in this case. Carnahan’s pretrial discovery citations of previous incidents over a period of 30 years in which Norvell’s cows got loose were not applicable, either.

“The reasons for the cows’ escapes were numerous, including hurricanes, hunters, felled trees, neighbors, and vandals, among other causes,” the court said in its opinion. “Notably, none of the previous escapes were the result of [Norvell] leaving a gate unlocked or unlatched.”

Carnahan’s lawyers, Nicholas Shannin and Carol Shannin of the Shannin Law Firm in Orlando, told The Daily Business Review that they are reviewing the decision for potential further action. Norvell was represented by Caryn Bellus and Barbara Fox of Kubicki Draper in Miami.

Fourth DCA Judge Spencer Levine wrote the court’s opinion on Wednesday, backed by Judges Carole Y. Taylor and Cory J. Ciklin.

Florida’s runaway cows

Norvell’s cows, of course, were far from the first to bust loose in Florida.

Earlier this month, a group of cows in Miami Lakes caused “quite a stir” for about 15 minutes on Commerce Way, west of the Palmetto Expressway. The cows’ morning adventure beefed up social media chatter.

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In 2016, a runaway cow in Hialeah was corralled on Interstate 75 just before rush hour.

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If some slapstick film director ever gets around to remaking the 1974 farce “For Pete’s Sake,” in which Barbra Streisand chases runaway, stolen cows through city streets, might we suggest filming in Florida?

Miami Herald Real Time/Breaking News reporter Howard Cohen, a 2017 Media Excellence Awards winner, has covered pop music, theater, health and fitness, obituaries, municipal government and general assignment. He started his career in the Features department at the Miami Herald in 1991.