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Get free road kill with your car insurance claim

Brian O'Connor was driving home one evening on Telegraph Road in suburban Detroit when the unexpected happened.

"There was this wham into my front fender on the passenger side, and I saw a flash of brown and tan go by that I instantly recognized as a deer," O'Connor recalls.

car insurance claimsPulling over and finding extensive damage to his vehicle, he called AAA. About the time a tow truck showed up, so did a Bloomfield Hills, Mich., patrol car.

As the officer filled out an accident report, she asked O'Connor if he wanted the deer.

"She says in Michigan, if you hit a deer, you get first claim on the meat," he recalls. "And she had a whole release form for me to sign from the Michigan Department of Natural Resources."

Turns out, Michigan is not unique. States have varying policies about the disposition of road kill, but a number of them are amenable to the motorist taking the remains with them.

Acquiring deer unexpectedly

Where can you take road kill home?
Examples of state laws

Colorado: Legal. Whoever takes the meat needs to obtain a donation certificate or tag issued by the Division of Wildlife within 48 hours. There is no requirement to take the entire carcass.

Connecticut: Not legal.

Georgia: Legal. No restrictions except on bear and endangered species.

Illinois: Legal. Driver has priority, but legal for any citizen to salvage. Person retrieving the deer must keep a record of the date, deer's sex, and location of the kill.

Indiana: Legal. Must obtain a road kill tag to possess meat or antlers.

Louisiana: Legal. Driver must report the collision and intent to harvest the deer to police.

Michigan: Legal. Permit is required. It is illegal to keep a fawn.

Minnesota: Legal. Permits are distributed by authorities.

Missouri: Legal. All deer strikes must be reported. Written permit required for harvest.

Pennsylvania: Legal. Anyone can harvest road-killed deer, but permit is required within 24 hours.

Tennessee: Legal.

Texas: Illegal.

Wisconsin: Legal. Permit required to remove road kill.

Wyoming: Legal. Road kill must have an interstate game tag provided by game warden if you want to remove it.

Source: Insure.com research

If a motorist hits a deer in Minnesota, the animal becomes property of the state, says Colleen Coyne, communications director of the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources in St. Paul. "But most law enforcement agencies carry permits in their squad cars," she says.

"If the motorist requests to keep the deer, it's at the law enforcement officer's discretion as to whether to issue a permit [to give the motorist the deer]. If the carcass is too mangled and poses a legitimate threat to other motorists, the officer can decide not to issue the permit, then request that the Minnesota Department of Transportation employees pick up the deer for disposal."

Louisiana has no hard and fast policy. "Legally, they're not supposed to have it; it's an illegal method of acquiring a deer," says Lt. Cullen Sellers of the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries in Baton Rouge. "There are times they'll donate the deer to a worthy cause. Other times, they'll call us and because manpower is so short, we'll allow the person who hit the deer to take it. . . . If we don't think they're going to do right with it, or they're doing it on purpose with no damage to the vehicle, legally they can't [take] it. But we don't want it to go to waste."

In Missouri, motorists must report deer-vehicle accidents to local law enforcement officials, which helps the Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC) track the incidence of deer-vehicle collisions.

In order to keep a road-killed deer for its meat, Missouri motorists must contact the MDC. State law requires you get written authorization from a conservation agent before you take it home.

In Wisconsin, the responding police officer at a deer-vehicle collision "will issue you a tag for the deer, and you can take it with you," says Sandra Spann, spokeswoman for Madison-based American Family Insurance.

Costly car insurance claims

If you hit a deer and come away with car damage, you’ll need comprehensive insurance in order to make a car insurance claim. You’ll also need to pay your deductible for repairs.

Spann says American Family Insurance received 8,673 car insurance claims for animal hits, the majority of them deer strikes, in Wisconsin alone over the 12 months ending in July 2010. In the same period, the insurer had 31,342 such claims in the 19 states in which it operates. Claims cost about $2,500 per animal collision.  

Deer-vehicle collisions kill about 200 drivers and passengers in the United States each year, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

Many deer-vehicle collisions can't be avoided, but you can take steps to reduce your odds of hitting a deer.

  • Be attentive in early morning and evening hours, the most active time for deer.
  • Be alert and drive with caution when you are moving through a deer-crossing zone. Look for other deer after one has crossed the road. Deer seldom run alone.
  • Slow down and blow your horn with one long blast to frighten the deer away. If necessary, use your high-beam headlights to see the deer better.
  • Brake firmly when you notice a deer in or near your path, rather than swerve to avoid the animal. It can confuse the deer as to where to run. Also, “by swerving suddenly,” Spann warns, “you risk rolling over.”
  • Wear your seat belt. The Insurance Information Institute says most serious injuries in car/deer crashes occur because people were not wearing seat belts.

Claims without venison

O'Connor, attired in business clothes, couldn't take the animal he hit. Instead, the deer was claimed by another driver who was passing the scene and called in to report the crash.

"The reason he called in the accident was he wanted the deer, not because he thought someone might be hurt," O'Connor says ruefully.

Fourteen months later, he hit another deer, but this time the injured animal ran off. "The upshot is I had $5,000 worth of car repairs over a 14-month period, and I still haven't gotten any venison out of it," he says.

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