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JUDICIAL: Includes Hawai’i state law, livestock liability, trespassing

In Yin v. Aguiar, No. SCWC-15-0000325, 2020 WL 1130648 (Haw. Mar. 9, 2020), the Supreme Court of Hawai’i considered a case involved trespassing cattle and destroyed sweet potatoes. In March, 2011, cattle owned by the defendant trespassed onto the plaintiff’s property and destroyed 13 acres of the plaintiff’s sweet potato crop. The plaintiff filed suit in Hawai’i state court, alleging that the defendant was liable for the damage caused by his cattle. In response, the defendant argued that he was not liable for the damage because Hawai’i law HRS § 142-63 provided that a livestock owner was only liable for damage caused by trespassing livestock if the trespass occurred on “properly fenced cultivated ground.” According to the defendant, the land the plaintiff had grown his sweet potatoes on was not “properly fenced” because it did not meet the fencing standards laid out in HRS § 142-61. Additionally, the defendant pointed out the that lease the plaintiff had for the land stated that the plaintiff was fully responsible for keeping livestock out of his crops. In response, the plaintiff argued that although HRS § 142-63 only covered the trespass of livestock on “properly fenced cultivated ground,” HRS § 142-64 provided that an owner of livestock was also liable for damage caused by their livestock trespassing on “any unfenced cultivated ground.” With regard to the lease, the plaintiff argued that the clause placing the responsibility on him to keep livestock out of his crops was invalid because it violated both Hawai’i state law and policy.

Although the lower court found for the defendant and held that the plaintiff was liable for the damage to his sweet potatoes, the Hawai’i Supreme Court found in favor of the plaintiff. After reviewing livestock trespass laws in the state of Hawai’i, the court determined that the state legislature had intended to hold livestock owners liable for damage caused by the trespass of their animals on cultivated land whether it was properly fenced or not. Because the clause in the plaintiff’s lease making him responsible for keeping out trespassing livestock violated the law, the court held that the clause was unenforceable.




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