A woman who was seriously injured by a pet cow at Azavedo Feed in Half Moon Bay three years ago was awarded more than $2.4 million last month by a San Mateo County jury.
Elvina Pereira, a longtime customer at Azevedo Feed, visited the store on April 23, 2016, to buy hay for her horses, said her attorney, Boris E. Efron. After an employee offered to show her the store’s pet cow that had recently given birth to two calves, Pereira followed her to a pen across from Azavedo Feed, according to Efron.
When they walked into the pen, Holly, the black Angus cow, rubbed her head against Pereira’s leg. But when the employee started walking toward the two calves, the mother cow abruptly lowed her head and charged Pereira. Efron said that when Holly struck Pereira in the chest, the cow pinned her against a post as it continued to attack.
“One of the most poignant parts of the testimony came when she described how she could hear all of her ribs breaking, one after the other,” said attorney Walter H. “Skip” Walker, who worked alongside Efron. “That’s the kind of thing that makes chills go up your spine.”
Pereira was rushed to Stanford Medical Center, where she spent two days in intensive care after being diagnosed with eight broken ribs, two of which were displaced. The following February, she sued the Azavedo Corporation, owned by the Wilbur and Cecelia Azavedo Family Trust.
Walker said that while Pereira’s broken ribs have since mended, she still suffers from severe neck and back pain. When Pereira’s ribs were dislocated, Walker explained, her intercostal nerves were damaged, causing chronic pain.
The lengthy trial concluded on March 7. After deliberating for two days, the jury awarded Pereira $114,600 for past medical bills, more than $1.3 million for future medical expenses, $250,000 for past pain and suffering and $750,000 for future pain and suffering. The final amount totaled $2,452,825.
Efron said that the verdict is the highest in San Mateo County history for an injury caused by a domestic animal.
Azavedo Feed declined to comment on the case. Walker said that, during the trial, the defense argued that the fault lay completely with Pereira.
“They said that she went into the corral on her own,” he said. “This was not a bulletproof argument, because the young woman who was working at the ranch (said) that she had looked out the window and saw Elvina going into the corral on her own.
“So, she left the office and followed her into the corral,” he continued. “But, she admits that she never said anything to Elvina. She never said, ‘Don’t go into the corral. You shouldn’t be there. Nobody’s allowed into the corral.’ And all of these were the supposed rules of the ranch.”
In addition to compensating Pereira’s damages, Efron said the verdict also reinforces the responsibility of ranchers, farmers and feed store operators to keep the public safe.
“Customers at feed stores and ranches should not be exposed to large animals who, no matter how gentle they seem to be, can become unpredictably aggressive, violent and dangerous,” he said in a prepared statement. “Feed store owners must take responsibility for the harm their animals cause.”