News & Resources

What to Do if You Hit an Animal and Need to File an Insurance Claim

Sept. 10, 2021
8 mins
Deer on roadway

No one wants to hit an animal, small or big, on the road with their car. At the very least, a collision with wildlife could cause damage to your vehicle. But it could also lead to a life-threatening collision.

But if you collide with a large animal, such as a deer or moose, will your auto insurance policy cover you for the damage?

How your car insurance covers you if you have a collision with an animal

If you do have the misfortune of hitting an animal, there will likely be damage to your vehicle. If you have collision and comprehensive coverages as part of your policy, you may be covered for that damage.

Collision coverage protects you financially if your car is damaged in a collision with another vehicle, object, or in this case, animal. Comprehensive coverage covers you for non-collision-related damage that’s out of your control. Both coverages usually have a deductible, depending on your policy.

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If you have car insurance in Ontario and hit a dead animal that’s lying on the road, your collision coverage may apply. However, hitting a dead animal comes with the expectation that you should have seen it and have been able to safely avoid hitting it, meaning it may be regarded as an at-fault collision, which can increase your premium. If a live animal darts out in front of you while driving and you hit it, your comprehensive coverage applies. It is considered a not-at-fault collision; therefore, it’s unlikely to affect your premium. The rules on this may vary from province–to–province, however.

What to do if you hit an animal

Hitting an animal on the road is like any other collision. Pull over to a safe location and turn on your hazard lights. Your priority should be to check to see if anyone in the car is hurt and call emergency services if help is needed. If you need to get out of your car, stay off the road and be aware of oncoming traffic.

Be mindful of when wildlife is most active in Canada

Roadkill tends to be seasonal. For example, you’re more likely to collide with a deer or moose in October or November during their mating season, or in the spring after they’ve given birth when they’re actively out foraging for food with their offspring. Similarly, smaller animals, such as raccoons, come out of hibernation as the temperature rises, sometimes a little dazed and confused. As a rule, fall and spring are the seasons where you need to be extra careful about hitting wildlife.

That being said, the summer months also see animals out and about, especially in cottage country. Even in the city, you must be wary of small animals like squirrels, raccoons, and neighbourhood pets darting out on a side street.

While they’re less likely to damage your vehicle in a significant way if you hit them, you could have a collision when swerving to avoid them and end up involving another vehicle in the collision.

Many drivers don’t realize that in a contest between an average-sized vehicle and a bear, moose or elk, the animal is always going to win, even though it’s likely to die in the collision. The underbelly of a moose, for example, can take the roof of a car clean off, and it is usually fatal for the car’s occupants.

According to the Ontario Provincial Police, more than 14,000 collisions with wildlife are reported annually in the province, which is the highest amount in Canada.

How to avoid a collision with a wild animal

If you think it’s unlikely you’ll hit an animal with your car, think again. It’s estimated that every hour in Canada, there are between four and eight car collisions involving large animals. Factor in the smaller ones running across urban and country roads and highways and being on alert for wildlife is ultimately part of being a responsible driver in Canada.

The Traffic Injury Research Foundation created the Wildlife Roadsharing Resource Centre to offer guidance on how to navigate the roads so as to avoid a collision with wildlife, as well as what you should do if you’re involved in a collision

  • Pay attention to wildlife road signs. Areas that are prone to animal crossings tend to have signs posted warning drivers of the threat, so keep an eye out for them, especially in less populated areas.
  • Always wear a seatbelt. You should be doing this anyway, and a collision with an animal can have a similar impact to hitting another vehicle, so the same safety benefits apply.
  • Be on alert and ready to react. It is especially important during the seasons where you’re more likely to encounter wildlife on the roads, as well as at dawn or dusk.
  • Be mindful of your speed. You should always drive within the posted limit, but if you’re in an area where wildlife on the road is common, it’s even more important to stick to it, especially at night when visibility is limited. The slower you’re going, the more time you have to respond.
  • Always be scanning your surroundings. Animals can dart out of nowhere quickly. Be aware of your surroundings while driving through forested areas. You can also take advantage of passengers in the vehicle as they can provide another set of eyes.
  • If you see one animal, there’s probably more. Many animals tend to travel in groups, so don’t assume you’re out of the woods after avoiding one.

If you do encounter an animal on the road, stay calm. Take your foot off the gas and gently brake. Use your hazard lights to alert the cars behind you there’s something up ahead, be careful when using your horn, as it could startle the animal and prompt it to flee into traffic or charge your vehicle. As a rule, you should resist the urge to swerve because it could make matters worse. You might lose control of your car, hit other vehicles, or even pedestrians or cyclists.

If a collision with a large animal is unavoidable, do what you can to lessen the impact. Aim to graze the animal instead by taking your foot off the gas, carefully braking, and keeping a firm grip on the steering wheel.

What to do if you have a collision with wildlife

Depending on where you live, you may be required to contact the police, even if there are no injuries. If you strike a large animal, or if another vehicle was involved in the collision, you will need to report it. At the very least, police should be called if the animal is injured, blocking traffic, or is creating a hazard for other drivers.

As for your vehicle, be sure your car is drivable before leaving the scene — even if the damage seems minimal. You can do this by scanning for leaking fluid, broken lights or other signs of damage. If there’s any indication that it’s unsafe to drive, call for a tow.

It is important to call your car insurance provider as soon as possible after the collision should you need to file a claim.

Gary Hilson

Gary Hilson is a Toronto-based freelance writer who has produced thousands of words for print and pixel about business and technology for a variety of publications and corporate clients. When he’s not tapping on the keyboard, Gary collects comic books, attends live theater, constructs Lego, and buys books he always intends to read.

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