There was a terrible mishap on a Kentucky back road a few days ago. A sport utility vehicle struck a loose horse that was wandering on the highway, knocking the horse into the other lane, where the unfortunate animal was hit a second time by an on-coming auto. That vehicle veered back into the lane where the horse first was struck and collided head-on into a third vehicle. One driver was killed and two other people were treated at a local hospital and released. The horse presumably was killed, although press reports were unclear about that.

Incidents like this one are tragic, and all too common. They remind us that fences have a purposeÑkeeping horses and other animals safe in their fields and away from highways and the property of other peopleÑand they point out a major source of potential liability for horse owners and boarding farms.

Most states have laws requiring livestock owners to keep their horses and other animals behind fences sturdy enough to do the job. Just what constitutes a fence that is “sturdy enough” can be a difficult question, however. The standard for safe and serviceable fencing generally is not spelled out by law and may depend, at least in part, on what your neighbors are doing regarding fence construction and maintenance. Failing to have adequate fencing in the first place, or the failure to keep a good fence in serviceable condition, may constitute negligence if a horse escapes, wanders onto a highway, and is struck by a vehicle. Loose horse liability also may result if the gate in a sound fence is left open inadvertently.

Courts in some states consider a loose horse wandering on the high