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Richard Alderman Only responsible for child's injury from dog if you knew dog had injured other kids before

By By Richard Alderman
Dec. 30, 2012 at 6:30 a.m.


A friend and her little girl were visiting me. While the girl was playing with my dog, the girl was knocked down and banged her head. We took her to the emergency room, and she is fine. Now, my friend thinks I should pay the hospital bill. What do you think?

If you are asking for a legal opinion, you probably are not liable for the hospital charges. For you to be responsible, your negligence must have caused the injury. For example, if you knew your dog had injured other children and played very rough, you probably had a duty to tell the little girl's mother or not let the girl play with your dog. If you didn't, you could be considered negligent and responsible. On the other hand, if your dog has never done anything like this before, and it was just an accident caused by a child and a friendly dog fooling around, you would not be considered negligent and would have no liability. My non-legal opinion, however, is that you should do what you think is right and what will maintain your friendship.

I have a durable power of attorney given to me by my recently deceased mother. Can I still use this to wind up her affairs?

A power of attorney, even a durable power of attorney, is not a substitute for a will. The authority granted by a power of attorney generally ends upon the death or incompetence of the grantor. Because this power of attorney was "durable," it continues even if the grantor becomes incompetent. Even a durable power of attorney, however, terminates at death. The deceased person's will controls the distribution of property after death.

I received a little cash for the holidays and got stupid. I bought a motorcycle I really can't afford. The seller refuses to let me return it. It is only 1-day-old and has been driven about 10 miles. I was told there is a Texas law saying that I have three days to change my mind?

As I have written many times in connection with cars, as a general rule, when you sign a contract to buy something, you are bound. There is no time limit within which you may just "change your mind." In most cases, to get out of a contract you must show that you were induced into the contract by fraud, duress, deceit or misrepresentation. The same rule applies to motorcycles, boats, trucks and just about anything else you purchase.

There are, however, a few exceptions to this rule, but none will help you. For example, the law gives you the right to change your mind when you sign a contract with a door-to-door salesman, a health club, a timeshare company or one that places a lien on your home. In most cases, however, the best rule to follow is don't sign if you are not positive about your decision. I suggest you offer to pay the seller some amount to induce him to allow you to return the motorcycle.

I am going to sell a gift I received on Craigslist. What is my liability if the buyer changes his mind and wants his money back?

Basically, when an individual sells something, he or she has very limited liability. Unlike a store, which may have to allow a customer to return or exchange a gift simply because the customer doesn't like it, a sale with an individual is considered final. The buyer has no right to simply change his mind and get his money back.

On the other hand, all sellers, including an individual, are subject to the Texas Deceptive Trade Practices Act. Under this law, a seller is responsible if he makes a false, misleading or deceptive statement about the goods or fails to disclose material information. In other words, you have nothing to worry about if the buyer just changes his mind and wants his money back. But, if you told the buyer something that wasn't true to induce the sale or didn't tell him about something wrong with the product, you could be liable for damages.

In fact, under the Deceptive Trade Practices Act you could owe three times the buyer's damages plus attorney's fees. The bottom line, speak truthfully and don't withhold any information, and you should not have any liability.

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 Web page at peopleslawyer.net.

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