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It’s a sad reality of our busy roads and highways: drivers hitting animals with their cars. Unfortunately, as long as there are drivers on the road and animals crossing those roads, there will be incidents of fauna getting struck by cars, trucks, and SUVs. However, will you get in trouble if you tragically hit an animal with your car? 

You could be charged with animal cruelty in specific circumstances after hitting an animal with your car

State laws differ on the subject, but most circumstances involving a car hitting an animal don’t result in the driver’s legal liability. For instance, if you’re driving your Ford Mustang and strike a deer, you’re likely not going to incur any fault. The actions of a wild animal are hardly your fault.

If the police conclude that you were under the influence, you could be charged with animal cruelty. Of course, that would be on top of a DUI charge. However, should you hit a wild animal, you’re typically not at fault. You are, however, encouraged to stop and call the authorities. 

Deer are the most common culprits in animal v. vehicle incidents. Between June of 2021 and June of 2022, an estimated 1.4 million deer were involved in on-road incidents in the United States, per Fox Weather. Unfortunately, the mass of a full-grown deer could spell disaster for drivers. The IIHS reports that 164 Americans died in incidents where a car hit an animal in 2021. 

A dog nearly gets hit by a car.
A dog runs in front of a car | Aliaksandr Litviniuk via iStock

According to Progressive Insurance, if you hit a domestic animal, like a dog or cat, you could be required by your state’s laws to stop and call the authorities. However, if you choose not to stop, you could be charged with animal cruelty. That, or “failing to notify owners of property damage.”

As cold and dispassionate as it might seem, many U.S. states consider domestic animals to be property for insurance claims. As such, if your pet gets hit by a car, you’ll likely be on the hook for the animal’s medical care and bills.