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Know your rights: Landowner not liable for injury to trespasser

By By Richard Alderman
June 22, 2013 at 1:22 a.m.


I own a large, vacant lot near a residential development. Because the lot is fairly level and doesn't have any holes or trees, area children often play there. I have put up "no trespassing" signs, but it doesn't seem to matter. I am concerned that I may be sued if someone is hurt while playing there. What is my possible liability?

As a general rule, a landowner is not liable for injuries that occur on his property unless the owner was negligent and did something that caused the injury. When it comes to people who trespass, however, the law is even stricter.

An owner of land does not owe a duty of care to a trespasser on the land and is not liable for any injury to a trespasser on the land unless the owner injured the trespasser willfully, wantonly or through gross negligence. In other words, you should have no liability if a trespassing child gets hurt playing on your property unless you injure him or her.

I cosigned for my brother when he bought his car. He has been paying the note on time for more than three years and has now established pretty good credit. I want to buy a house, and it is hurting my credit to be a co-signer on his note. What can I do to have my name removed?

The only way to have a cosigner removed is for the creditor to agree to remove him or for him to refinance and pay off the debt. The creditor is under no legal obligation to remove a co-signer, even if there is no longer any need for one.

I suggest you talk with the creditor to see if it will agree to refinance the note in only your brother's name or see if someone else will refinance the car for him.

I inherited some property. It is owned jointly with my brother and sister. I no longer want to own a share of the property, and they will not buy me out. What are my options?

You cannot force them to buy you out, but you may be able to make them see that is the best option. Under the law, you have the right to go to court and get the court to order the sale of the property. It would then be sold, and the proceeds divided between you and your siblings.

A court ordered sale, however, usually is not in anyone's best interest. Bringing a legal proceeding to force the sale of the property will involve the time and expense of a lawsuit and will probably not result in the highest price. In my opinion, you all stand to lose money from a forced sale.

A better solution is to speak with your brother and sister to see if you can work things out without hiring a lawyer and involving the courts.

My guess is that once they realize you are serious and understand the options, they will either buy out your share or agree that you should all sell the property and divide the proceeds.

My bank account was just garnished for a credit card debt. I thought there was no garnishment in Texas?

The Texas Constitution generally prohibits wage garnishment in Texas. In other words, a credit card company cannot garnish your wages through your employer, even if it sues and gets a judgment against you.

Garnishing the money in a bank account, however, is not considered wage garnishment. Even though the money in the account probably is from your paycheck, creditors can garnish a bank checking or savings account.

Once you are sued and a judgment is entered against you, you need to be careful about keeping a large balance in a bank account. The best way to avoid this type of garnishment is to contact the creditor's attorney and work out a payment plan.

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 website at peopleslawyer.net.

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