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Most dogs get one bite

By By Richard Alderman
Oct. 27, 2012 at 5:27 a.m.


My dog nipped a small child who came to our house with her mother. While the adults were talking, the child was playing with the dog. The child sustained only a small cut. My question is, are we liable for any medical bills? We have never had a problem with our dog before.

As a general rule, the owner of a dog is not liable when the dog bites someone. For a person to be liable, the person must have been "negligent." Negligence means not exercising ordinary care to protect others from being bitten by the dog.

For example, if the dog's owner knows the dog does not like children and had bitten a child in the past, the owner would have an obligation to keep the dog away from a child. If the owner did not remove the dog, or warn the child and her parents, the owner could be found to have been negligent.

On the other hand, if the dog had never bitten anyone and was not a dangerous breed, the owner probably has no duty to take steps to protect the child. If the dog did bite a child, the owner probably would have no liability because he was not negligent.

This rule is sometimes referred to as the "one bite rule," meaning that until a dog actually bites someone, the owner has no reason to suspect it will and no duty to protect people from injury.

I know you wrote about an organization at the University of Houston Law Center that can help with consumer problems. Can you please give me its name again? I am being harassed by a debt collector about an old credit card bill.

The organization is the Texas Consumer Complaint Center, and in the past year it has helped more than 1,500 consumers save more than $1 million.

The Texas CCC, as it is known, was founded by the Center for Consumer Law with an award from the Texas Attorney General's office. It is staffed by attorneys and law students, who handle all types of consumer complaints, from debt collection and defective cars to plumbing problems and landlord-tenant issues. If you have a problem and need help, go to TexasCCC.com.

My daughter had a baby and is living with the baby's father. Are they married? He says they are not. What rights will she have if he leaves? He is taking care of her and the baby now but is threatening to leave her.

Under the law, if he is the father of the child, she has the right to receive support for the child. She is entitled to child support regardless of whether they are married.

You seem to believe, however, that because they are living together with a child, they are married. That is not the law. For them to have a common law marriage based on living together, they must agree to be married and hold themselves out as married. If they are just "living together" and have not agreed to be married or held themselves out as married, they are not married. As I said, however, this does not change his obligations to the child.

Can my wages be garnished for child support imposed by another state?

Most states have agreements with Texas, making it very easy to enforce a child support obligation from another state.

Q: I am the sole beneficiary of my mother's estate. It is worth about $500,000. How much should I expect to pay in gift taxes after she dies?

You will not have to pay anything for estate taxes. First, you, the beneficiary, do not pay gift taxes on money you inherit. The estate pays any taxes that are due. More importantly, under current law, no taxes are due unless the estate is valued at more than $5 million.

Want to know more about your legal rights? Check out my website, www.peopleslawyer.net.

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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