Know your rights: Store may not be liable for 'slip and fall'

March 30, 2013 at midnight
Updated March 29, 2013 at 10:30 p.m.

By Richard Alderman

My child slipped in a store on a puddle of water. I submitted a written claim at the time of the incident. My daughter had injuries but they were not too serious. The store says this is a questionable claim because the store was not aware the water was on the floor, and cleaned it as soon as they were told. I told them that because they did not know the water was on the floor does not matter. The incident still happened and water should not be on the floor when customers are shopping. I would like to know what to do concerning this matter. Would a lawyer take this case?

The type of accident you describe is called a slip and fall. Contrary to what you believe, whether the store knew about the water may in fact matter. A store is not automatically responsible anytime a customer falls and is injured in the store. Stores do not "guarantee" that you will not have an accident. For example, if you tripped and fell over your own feet or another customer, the store would have no liability.

For the store to be responsible, you must show it was "negligent." This means you must show it did not act reasonably to protect its customers from falling. For example, if the store knew about the water or an employee spilled it, and the store did not promptly take steps to clean it up or warn customers, the store could be considered to be negligent, and responsible.

Based on what you say, there is no indication that the store was negligent. Whether an attorney will take this case will depend on the extent of your daughter's injuries, and any other information you have that may show the store contributed or caused her injury. You may want to talk with some local personal injury attorneys.

I went to rent an apartment. When I told the landlord I was worried about insects and ask if he would exterminate, he replied he would rather not rent to me. Is this legal?

Basically, the law allows a landlord to rent to whomever he wants, and refuse to rent to anyone he doesn't want as a tenant. As long as the landlord does not unlawfully discriminate, for example, based on race, sex, age religion or family status, he is free to refuse to rent to anyone.

I recently signed a contract for $875 and paid it in full. Now, the seller says he made a mistake and that it should have cost $75 more. I do not think I should have to pay this higher amount. What is the law?

The law regarding a mistake can be complicated. In my opinion, however, in your case the seller should stand by his initial agreement. I am sure that if you told him you made a mistake and meant to pay $75 less, he would not just give you back the money.

Generally, the law does not care if only one person to a bargain made a mistake. The agreement stands. The only time that a unilateral mistake usually matters is when the other party knew about the mistake or tried to take advantage of the other person.

For example, if he just added wrong and you knew at the time you signed the agreement that it was $75 too low, you would owe the additional money. On the other hand, if at the time you signed the agreement you believed that $875 was a fair price and that was how much you wanted to pay, my opinion is that you should not have to bear the risk that the seller made a mistake.

We are being sued and want to be prepared for the worst. If we lose and the person suing gets a judgment against us, what assets can he take? Can he take things like our furniture, clothing or car?

If you are sued and lose, the creditor may take only "non-exempt" property to satisfy the judgment. In Texas, a person's home and wages are "exempt." Personal property, such as home furnishing, wearing apparel, and your car are all "exempt" if their combined value is under $30, 000 for an individual, or $60,000 for a family. To see everything Texas law protects and what can happen if you are sued, look at the "Debt Collection" section on my website, listed below.

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



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