What to Do If You Hit an Animal With Your Car

Steps to Take if You’ve Hit a Dog With Your Car: Call the police or animal control Look for a collar with an owner or veterinarian name If you’re on a busy road and need to move the dog out of the way, place a blanket or a jacket over the injured dog first Do not leave the injured dog

Image by Madelyn Goodnight © The Balance 2020

Hitting an animal with your car is an upsetting experience for anyone. Depending on the type of animal, you might be overwhelmed with a lot of questions about how to care for the injured creature and what your legal responsibilities are.

Beyond those concerns, there is the question of insurance. Who will pay for the damage to your car? Let's look at answers to some of these questions, along with how to avoid the accident in the first place.

Stop and Check the Animal

After you've ensured you and anyone else in your car are not hurt, the first thing to do is see how badly the animal is injured.

If you hit an animal, don't flee the scene. State laws vary, but many of them require you to stay and report animal accidents to the authorities, especially if the animal is domestic.

If You Hit a Wild Animal

Collisions between cars and wild animals are quite common, especially during the fall when it's getting darker earlier and animals are migrating. Deer are well-known for darting in front of unsuspecting drivers and causing serious accidents.

Although you typically don't have a legal obligation to report hitting wildlife, it's still humane to check on the animal. If it's alive but injured, it's important to call law enforcement to find out how you can get help. Do not touch the animal or try to assist it yourself—injured wildlife can be aggressive and dangerous.

If You Hit Someone's Pet

Hitting someone's dog or other pet with your car can be particularly distressing, and it's especially important to assess the animal's condition and, if possible, get in touch with its owner. If you can safely read its tags without endangering yourself, see if you can get the necessary contact information.

Just as with wild animals, it's important to be careful. Wounded animals are unpredictable and can quickly become aggressive. Never try to move an injured pet unless it's absolutely necessary. You could cause more damage to the animal or put yourself in harm’s way.

If you’re on a busy road and need to move a dog or other domestic animal out of harm's way, try placing a blanket or a jacket over the injured pet so you can more safely move it.

Check Your Car

After you've taken care of the animal, you need to assess the damage to your vehicle. Animals can cause quite a bit of damage—the average claim for a car-wildlife collision is $4,135. As with any accident, it's important to thoroughly document the damage with photos so you can file a claim with your insurance carrier.

In many cases, your car won't be safe to drive after hitting an animal. You should carefully check for any signs of unsafe conditions, including fluid leaks, wheel damage, or any loose parts. When in doubt, play it safe and have your car towed to a garage to be checked out before you drive.

Dealing With Insurance

There are a few different costs that you might incur if you hit an animal while driving. Your insurance may or may not assist with these, depending on who is considered at fault and what insurance coverage you have.

Veterinary Care Costs

Veterinary bills for pets can quickly pile up when an animal is hit by a car. A dog's owner is usually the one responsible for deciding on the course of treatment and for covering all the expenses, as it is considered their responsibility to keep their animal from running into traffic.

However, if you cannot locate the owner, the cost could fall on you if you bring the animal to the vet. That’s why, if you hit someone's pet, it’s much better to call animal control or the police. If you do take an injured dog to the vet and are unsure of the dog's owner, speak with the vet to get an idea of what to expect.

Repairs to Your Vehicle

Physical repairs to your car's damage caused by hitting an animal are covered by comprehensive car insurance coverage. If the animal is a dog or other household pet, the claim could be handled a little differently. In many cases, if you file a comprehensive claim due to hitting a pet, the insurance company will subrogate the claim by going after the animal's owner.

Typically, the dog owner's homeowners insurance policy would pick up such a claim under its liability coverage. These liability claims usually don't have a deductible. However, a claim filed against a homeowners policy is sure to be surcharged at renewal.

If you do not have comprehensive coverage, you can go directly to the dog owner's home insurance carrier to file a claim for repairs to your vehicle. If you cannot locate the owner, you must have comprehensive coverage on your vehicle for your car insurance to cover the damage.

How to Avoid Hitting an Animal in the Future

Of course, the best way to save yourself money and distress is to avoid hitting an animal in the first place. The Insurance Information Institute has a few tips for how to stay alert while driving so you can keep wildlife and pets—not to mention yourself and your passengers—safe.

  • Be more careful and alert during peak hours: Deer are most active from sunset to midnight and during the fall season. Pay close attention and drive more cautiously during these times.
  • Watch for highly concentrated areas: Deer crossings will often be marked, but you can also note anywhere that a road runs between wooded and agricultural areas as a likely spot for wildlife.
  • If you see one, look for more: Deer often travel in groups, so keep your eyes open for others if you see one.
  • Use your high beams: When there is no oncoming traffic, use your brights to better see the road and alert animals to your presence.
  • Slow down, brake firmly, and blow your horn: Frighten deer with a loud, long blast of your horn as you are slowing down.
  • Don't swerve: Many of the worst accidents happen when drivers swerve off the road or into other traffic.
  • Wear your seatbelt: This is a good rule for all driving situations, in the event you do have an accident.