I Hit an Animal While Driving. What Should I Do?


Margot Lester

One of the worst experiences on the road is hitting an animal while driving. Even if it’s not somebody’s pet, you feel terrible about it. And that’s amplified if you or your passengers are injured or your car is seriously damaged.

We got this question from a reader in our inbox:

“I carry a full insurance policy. Will I be covered for pain and suffering for hitting a deer who crosses my path in the road and stops in front of my car and can’t avoid hitting it? Shouldn’t my insurance cover the vehicle repairs and my medical bills if I hit an animal while driving?”

Because it can be hard to remember what to do under these circumstances, we pulled together the steps you need to follow and the information you need when you hit an animal while driving.

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What Does Insurance Cover if You Hit an Animal While Driving?

Three kinds of coverage may be relevant if you hit an animal while driving. Talk to your insurance provider to see if you have any coverage in the following areas. Auto insurance policies vary from state-to-state, so talk to an attorney if other drivers were involved in the crash.

1. Comprehensive Coverage

Animal collisions are usually only covered by comprehensive coverage, which is a type of insurance you can add to your policy that covers repairs and replacement for incidents besides car accidents, like:

  • Hitting an animal while driving
  • Theft, flooding, or fires
  • Hazardous weather

This policy only covers repairs to your vehicle, but not medical bills or lost wages.

IMPORTANT: Comprehensive coverage doesn’t apply if you take evasive maneuvers to avoid hitting an animal and end up hitting a car or pedestrian, damaging someone’s property or rolling your car. That’s covered by collision coverage.

2. Medical payments coverage

In some states, you have the option of carrying medical payments coverage. It can help you pay for your and your passengers’ medical bills after an accident.

3. Personal injury protection

Personal injury protection (PIP) — sometimes called no-fault insurance — can help you pay for lost wages and medical expenses. Some states require PIP if they’re a no-fault state, but check with your state’s laws to make sure.

IMPORTANT: Even if you have auto insurance coverages that include medical expenses, you can file health insurance claims to help pay for care and expenses related to the accident.

Can You Get Pain and Suffering Damages if You Hit an Animal While Driving?

It depends on the circumstances and the extent of your damages. You cannot receive damages, including pain and suffering if you hit a wild animal. You may have a case if you can show the owner displayed negligence if you hit a domesticated animal. Get a free consultation with an auto accident attorney to see if your case qualifies.

IMPORTANT: Car accident attorneys typically earn up to 3.5x more money for claimants than those who settle directly with car insurers.

Does Hitting an Animal While Driving Affect Your Car Insurance?

Short answer: It can.

  • You’re responsible for meeting your deductible, which typically ranges from a low of $100 to a high of $1000.
  • Though not an at-fault situation, comprehensive claims do show up on your claim history.

If you file a lot of claims for animal collisions in three years, your insurer may raise your rates, unless you live in California and Oklahoma.

5 Steps to Take After You Hit an Animal While Driving

While every accident is different, these steps apply to most vehicle-animal crashes.

1. Pull over

Even if you think the people, the vehicle and the animal are OK, it’s a good idea to pull over as soon as it’s safe to calm your nerves and do a better assessment of impact and injury. Remember to pull as far off the road as you can and turn on your hazard lights.

Some states make it illegal to leave the animal if a specific amount of damages were involved in the accident. You may even violate animal cruelty laws if you leave the scene.

2. Call 9-1-1

Call for emergency response if:

  • You or a passenger may be injured
  • Other vehicles or pedestrians are involved
  • The animal or your vehicle is blocking traffic
  • There is damage to your or another vehicle

PRO TIP: Stay away from the animal. This may be the hardest part of hitting an animal while driving because we don’t like to see other living things struggle and suffer. But approaching an injured animal may make them panic and lash out.

3. Inspect your vehicle for damage

If it’s safe to do so, get out of the car and look for exterior damage. When it’s safe to move around your vehicle, get out and look for damage. Look at your headlights, mirrors, fenders and bumpers. Take photos of anything you notice, then call your insurance agent to find out what to do next.

PRO TIP: If you called law enforcement, don’t call a tow truck without the officer’s OK.

4. Document the accident

Even if there isn’t visible damage, it’s smart to get photos of the scene, including the road conditions and the direction the animal came from. Jot down some notes on what happened before and after you hit the animal.

5. Speak carefully

If there are other cars or pedestrians involved, keep your conversations brief and factual. Avoid sharing assumptions or opinions about the accident. But caution is important, especially if you want compensation or to sue.

PRO TIP: Study up on what to say and not to say after a car wreck.

Review the special rules when you collide with an animal while driving a rental car.

3 Things to Know if You Hit a Pet, Wildlife or a Farm Animal While Driving

Hitting a wild animal may not yield damages, but pets or wild animals have separate laws you have to know.

1. What if I Hit an Animal While Driving That’s Obviously Someone’s Pet?

Follow the steps outlined above if you think you’ve hit someone’s pet. For your safety and the animal’s, let law enforcement or emergency services check the animal for tags or a chip and contact the owner. Didn’t call the police? Do so now. A police report can help insurers and lawyers determine if the owner’s actions contributed to the accident.

Get more advice on what to do if you hit an animal.

2. What if It’s a Wild Animal Like a Deer?

In most states, you can keep going if there’s no vehicle damage or injury.

IMPORTANT: Some states like Florida require you to report any accident involving $500 or more in damages, including wildlife collisions. And in some rare cases, failing to report extreme injuries to wildlife may result in animal cruelty charges.

The steps to follow if you hit a wild animal while driving are the same. The biggest difference is with insurance coverage. Since nobody “owns” wildlife, you have to go through your auto insurer to file a claim. A police report is helpful here.

Find out more about what to do if you hit a deer.

3. Who’s Liable if You Hit a Livestock Animal Like a Cow with Your Car?

Liability in livestock collisions depends on variables including:

  • State law
  • Your insurance coverage
  • The owner’s negligence

PRO TIP: If you hit a farm animal, call your insurance agent and 9-1-1. The police report can help make the case for owner negligence.

Do I Need a Lawyer if I Hit an Animal While Driving?

You might need to consult an auto accident attorney if:

  • You’re unsure of the local laws regarding animal collisions
  • You think the owner was liable
  • Multiple vehicles were involved
  • You want to avoid the time and effort of filing your own claims

IMPORTANT: it’s unlikely you’ll go to court. According to recent data, 95% of car accident claims are settled without going to trial. Of those that do go to trial, 57% rule in the plaintiff’s favor.

Margot Lester
CEO at The Word Factory

Margot Lester is the CEO ofThe Word Factory,a content marketing agency based in North Carolina that provides services for international healthcare brands, tech companies and SaaS developers. An award-winning business and brand journalist, she writes for daily and weekly newspapers and business journals, national magazines, in-flight publications and leading websites. Margot is also an in-demand writing coachand organizational communications trainer,helping individuals and teams write more effectively. LinkedIn:linkedin.com/in/margotlester.