Their lawyer, Cassidy Stalley, cited three defenses: contributory negligence by Heidrich, the risk she undertook when she chose to ride a motorcycle into a herd of buffalo, as well as her failure to mitigate damages, such as “unnecessary medical and other related expenses.”

Tiffany Tan

Rapid City Journal

A woman who says she got mauled by a buffalo while driving by a South Dakota ranch on her motorcycle is suing the ranch and its owners for negligence.

Marisol Heidrich, of Minot, N.D., says the ranch and its owners failed to take steps that would have prevented her injuries despite knowing the danger the buffalo posed. She is asking for more than $75,000 in compensation from the Mickelson Ranch, in northern Meade County, and its father-and-son owners, Sam and Travis Mickelson.

On Aug. 1, 2014, Heidrich and her husband were traveling on their motorcycles to the Sturgis rally when they came across four buffaloes grazing along U.S. Highway 212, said Heidrich’s lawyer, John Dorsey.

The buffaloes were owned by the Mickelsons, whose ranch services include guided buffalo hunts, Dorsey said. The ranch is between the town of Faith and the unincorporated community of Mud Butte, about 65 miles northeast of Sturgis.

The buffaloes, the lawyer said, had earlier escaped their enclosure and had been left unattended by the road in the middle of the day.

Dorsey said the buffalo attack unfolded this way: The Heidrich couple slowed their motorcycles to about 25 mph, and the husband drove past the animals first. When Heidrich’s turn came to drive through, a buffalo cow charged her.

The buffalo hit the right rear of her Harley-Davidson, knocking her off, and stomped on her head. This resulted in fractures around Heidrich’s nose and left eye, facial lacerations and loose teeth.

The biker was airlifted to Rapid City Regional Hospital, where she stayed for two days, Dorsey said in an interview Thursday. She has undergone plastic surgery to repair the damage on her face.

Heidrich, a truck driver, accumulated medical bills of $39,000, the lawyer said.

The compensation she is requesting is to cover her medical expenses, pain and suffering, loss of enjoyment of life and permanent impairment, Dorsey said. The exact amount will be determined by a jury if it goes to trial.

The Mickelsons and the ranch, meanwhile, deny any negligence related to Heidrich’s injuries and asked the court to dismiss her complaint.

Their lawyer, Cassidy Stalley, cited three defenses: contributory negligence by Heidrich, the risk she undertook when she chose to ride a motorcycle into a herd of buffalo, as well as her failure to mitigate damages, such as “unnecessary medical and other related expenses.”

In court filings and at a Rapid City federal court hearing on Thursday, Stalley emphasized that Heidrich has not provided evidence that the buffalo had “dangerous propensities” and that the Mickelsons knew of these.

She cited legal precedent that said in personal injury cases arising from collisions between vehicles and domestic animals, the suing party has the burden of proving that defendants had knowledge of the animals’ “vicious propensities.”

Heidrich also has not identified the particular buffalo that charged her, which is important in establishing the facts, Stalley and her colleague Thomas Fritz said in an interview.

At the Thursday hearing, Magistrate Judge Daneta Wollmann said Heidrich had not obtained the buffalo’s tag number or name.

Wollmann quickly added with a smile, “I guess the buffalo doesn’t have a name.”

When asked by the Journal how Heidrich had been contributorily negligent, Fritz said the defense would prefer to present the information in court.

The Heidrich couple and the Mickelsons are now preparing for depositions in May, when they will give sworn testimonies that are taken before a trial.

But Fritz underscored that both parties are interested in reaching an out-of-court settlement.

The accused buffalo, meanwhile, is long gone.

Fritz said the animal had been put down because of injuries it suffered in the biker incident.

Dorsey showed the Journal a photograph of the dead animal, taken in mid-August 2014, where it is seen lying on its side in a field. It had noticeably distinct horns, with one curving downward.

Free Range Report

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