Legal office advises on deer strikes, claims
October 18, 2012
FORT RUCKER, Ala. (October 18, 2012) -- It's almost that time of year again when the deer are running amuck and doing seemingly idiotic things like jumping in front of cars as they travel to and fro.
Deer have a mind of their own -- they react unexpectedly when near roads and this behavior increases during the annual rut. In a situation where a deer darts in front of you, the only thing you can control is your own reaction to seeing the deer in your path.
Never swerve to miss hitting a deer. Once you swerve, you are at a much greater risk of hitting oncoming traffic, a tree, a guard rail, a light post, or running into a ditch. The damage from hitting a deer is often minimal in comparison to hitting one of those other objects. Injury is also a lot more likely when you swerve to miss a deer. The potential for losing control of your vehicle and crashing greatly outweighs the consequences of the deer strike.
Prepare yourself for a potential deer accident by rehearsing the situation in your mind, driving defensively and talking to your insurance company about your coverage in this type of scenario.
When a deer strike happens on post, one of the first questions many people ask is whether the Army is responsible and if a claim can be filed. The short answer is no, because hitting a deer is not an unusual occurrence and the accident does not involve negligence on the part of a U.S. government employee.
Under Chapter 11 of Army Regulation 27-20, "Claims resulting from unusual occurrences are generally payable when they result in losses at quarters, damage to vehicles while properly on post or while being driven for the convenience of the Government, or other types of loss or damage to a proper claimant's property while the claimant was acting incident to their service. Unusual occurrences include but are not limited to fire, flood, hurricane, earthquake, or weather phenomena that are unusual for the location of the loss."
In addition, Department of the Army Pamphlet 27-162 states specifically that "[c]ollisions are not unusual occurrences. Claims for damages arising from such incidents may be paid as personnel claims only when the vehicle was being used under orders for the convenience of the government. For example, it is not an unusual occurrence for a parked vehicle to be struck by a shopping cart in a commissary parking lot or by a hit-and-run driver, nor is it an unusual occurrence for a motor vehicle to strike a deer on the installation. Unless the vehicle was used for the convenience of the government, claims for these incidents would only be payable if the government was liable under a tort claim authority."
In order for a driver to claim that he or she was using their personally owned vehicle "for the convenience of the government," there must be written orders stating that fact.
Damages resulting from deer strikes are also not compensated for under Chapter 4 of AR 27-20, the Federal Tort Claims Act, which protects individuals from the negligence of government employees.
Under Alabama law, visitors to Fort Rucker are entitled to not be willfully or negligently injured while on post. For business invitees and employees, the government has a duty to maintain the premises in a reasonably safe condition, or to warn of all non-obvious or unexpected dangers that become known to the government.
For instance, if there is a large pothole in the road, the government must repair the pothole within a reasonable time after it learns of it or post warning signs to alert drivers of the possible danger. There are some deer warning signs posted on various roads on Fort Rucker. However, while potentially dangerous and often resulting in costly repairs, deer unexpectedly crossing the road do not qualify as a hidden danger that the government must warn about.
Drivers are cautioned to slow down and be aware of their surroundings. In the event a driver gets into an accident with a deer, the driver should call the military police to report the incident and consult his or her insurance carrier to pay for any vehicle repairs.
For any questions you may have regarding filing a claim, call the claims office at the Fort Rucker Office of the Staff Judge Advocate at 255-2517.