Texas law protects the volunteer who offers assistance
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By Richard Alderman
I recently came upon an automobile accident. The car had run into a ditch, and the driver was stuck inside. I was able to help her get out of the car, cover her cuts and move to the side where she lay down. I reported the accident to the police, who quickly arrived with an ambulance and took her away. When I told a friend this story, he told me I was dumb to help out because I could get sued. Is this correct?
In my opinion, your friend's concerns are misplaced. Texas law encourages people to assist others in an emergency situation.
Under the law, a person providing emergency assistance is not liable unless the person acts "willfully or wantonly" negligent. In other words, as long as you are acting in good faith and provide the care or assistance you believe is reasonable, you have no liability if you worsen the situation or cause additional injuries.
My son was bitten by an animal at a petting zoo. The zoo has refused to pay his medical expenses. Can I sue in small claims court?
Assuming your medical bills are less than $10,000 you may bring a claim in small claims court. The real question, however, is whether the zoo has any liability for the bite.
For the zoo to be liable, you must show more than just the injury. Animals are animals, and when we go to a petting zoo, we always assume the risk that one of them might bite. For the zoo to be responsible, you must show some fault on its part that caused the incident.
For example, if the zoo knew that this animal has bitten children in the past and did not post notices or remove the animal, it could be considered "negligent," and responsible for your child's injury. On the other hand, if this was just an accident and the first time this animal had bitten a child, you probably have no basis upon which to impose liability.
I rented an apartment with my girlfriend. Two months ago, she went crazy and threw me out. Now, the landlord says I owe rent until the property is rented to a new tenant. Is this right?
When you sign a lease, you agree to abide by its terms until the end of the lease. The fact that your girlfriend threw you out does not matter. The landlord did not pick your roommate and should not have to bear a financial loss because your relationship ends. As far as the law is concerned, you are responsible for the rent unless the terms of the lease say otherwise.
I suggest you carefully read your lease, and then talk with the landlord. You may be able to work something out regarding your liability. I should note that if you do have to pay, your ex-girlfriend probably is responsible for reimbursing you, if she was the reason you had to move.
I have had a common law marriage for 18 years. Two years ago, my husband and I were formally married in a church. Unfortunately, we are now talking about a divorce. He says that our marriage is now only two years old and that I would not be entitled to much of our property, or any from maintenance.
A common law marriage is no different than any other marriage. Whatever rights you have are not changed by the fact that you had a common law marriage for 18 years and a formal marriage for only two. The property you have acquired over the past 20 years is community property and will be divided in a divorce.
Also, Texas law does allow limited spousal maintenance for someone married more than 10 years. Your divorce attorney can explain all of this to you.
Richard Alderman, a consumer advocate popularly known as "the People's Lawyer," is a professor at the University of Houston Law School in Houston. His column appears weekly in the Victoria Advocate. Write to him at UH Law Center, Houston, Texas 77204-6391. He also maintains a webpage at www.peopleslawyer.net.