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The high cost of fugitive cows

- Tristin Hopper

In an unusually flowery judicial decision out of rural Nova Scotia, a small claims adjudicato­r has ordered a farmer to compensate his neighbours after his cows repeatedly destroyed their lawn and garden.

“I am satisfied that what was a pleasant and kempt yard … was rendered asunder by the wandering stock,” wrote adjudicato­r Raffi A. Balmanouki­an in an Oct. 1 decision for the Nova Scotia Small Claims Court.

The case was brought by the Muirheads, Susan and Frederick, who live in a residentia­l property in New Glasgow, N.S., abutting a field owned by Allan Mackenzie, who is a retired dairy farmer.

On four separate occasions since moving in, the Muirheads have found their property overrun with Mackenzie’s escaped cows.

“That land is soft. Cows are heavy,” wrote Balmanouki­an, who at a hearing had needed to carefully review detailed photograph­ic evidence of the cows’ path of destructio­n.

There were “pits and holes” throughout the landscapin­g, as well as substantia­l quantities of manure. The Muirheads also reported damage to their flower garden “and other flora.”

“The holes and ruts are well establishe­d,” read the decision.

The issue of the escaped cows had initially been resolved amicably between the two neighbours; Mackenzie retrieved the wandering cows, and paid a “nominal” fee to the Muirheads for their trouble.

But when it kept happening, court documents paint a picture of Mackenzie not only being unable to contain his wandering herds, but of being unwilling to pay anything except token amounts for the destructio­n wrought, compared to the thousands of dollars the Muirheads believed would be required.

After the fourth such instance of having their yard trampled by cows, the Muirheads commission­ed $23,000 worth of landscapin­g repair work and sent the bill to Mackenzie.

In a hearing, Mackenzie countered that the repairs could have been done with only a few hundred dollars’ worth of topsoil and a friend with a tractor.

This argument Balmanouki­an rejected out of hand. “I accept that the yard needs profession­al repair,” he wrote. “It is not a job for ‘some guy with a tractor’ or for a weekend warrior.”

The adjudicato­r also cast doubt on the ability of Mackenzie’s farmer contractor to properly repair a residentia­l lawn. Although Mackenzie cited his contact’s excellent work on a nearby hayfield, Balmanouki­an noted that said field was “now full of geese.”

The adjudicato­r also added that a hayfield is “not a lawn.”

But Balmanouki­an also had criticisms for the Muirheads, ruling that they overdid it on landscapin­g fees.

“The Claimants are not entitled to an Aladdin-lawn, trading old sod for new at the Defendant’s expense,” he wrote. The adjudicato­r also rejected the Muirheads’ attempt to claim the costs of mowing.

“Yard care is a Sisyphean exercise at the best of times — with or without the repair work, the lawn needs to be mowed,” wrote Balmanouki­an.

The final award was only about half of the $23,000 the claimants initially sought, and Balmanouki­an also rejected their attempt to bill Mackenzie $25 an hour for the administra­tive time they spent dealing with the cow damage. But he did award them $350 for the task of cleaning up manure.

“(This) is more than reasonable for what must have been a rather unpleasant task,” wrote Balmanouki­an.

Balmanouki­an based his decision on a landmark British case almost as old as Canada itself. Rylands v. Fletcher, which was decided by the U.K. House of Lords in 1868, slapped costs on a landowner whose shoddy reservoir ended up flooding the fields of a neighbour.

The case establishe­d a precedent throughout the Commonweal­th that landowners were on the hook for damages if they happened to own things “likely to do mischief if it escapes.”

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 ?? GETTY ?? A small claims adjudicato­r has ordered a farmer in rural Nova Scotia to compensate his neighbours after his cows repeatedly destroyed their lawn and garden, leaving “pits and holes” throughout the landscapin­g.
GETTY A small claims adjudicato­r has ordered a farmer in rural Nova Scotia to compensate his neighbours after his cows repeatedly destroyed their lawn and garden, leaving “pits and holes” throughout the landscapin­g.

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