Dog owner could be liable for car damage

Q. I was playing ball in the front yard with my dog, when she suddenly ran into the street in front of our house. A passing car struck her. Fortunately, my dog was not hurt. The accident, however, did cause some minor damage to the car. Am I responsible for the cost of repairs for the car? The owner expects me to pay.

A. A pet owner is not automatically responsible for the acts of his or her pet. For a pet owner to be liable for injury or damage caused by the pet, the owner must have been “negligent,” and that negligence must have caused the accident. Basically, negligence means not acting as a reasonable person would be expected to act in the same situation.

In your e-mail you indicate that your dog was not on a leash and you were playing ball near the street. In my opinion, playing ball with a dog next to a street is not reasonable, because a reasonable person would expect that the dog could run into the street. This would mean that you were negligent, and you are responsible for the damage to the car. I think you should be thankful your dog was not injured, pay the cost of repairing the car, and stay in the backyard when you play with your dog.

Q. I own a small landscaping business. A customer agreed to pay me $100 for a month of work. He paid for the first few months, but has not paid for the last three months. He kept saying he would pay, and now he just refuses. I said I would go to small claims court, and he said, “Good luck, you don’t have anything in writing.”

What can I do?

A. First, there is not need for a written contract in a situation like this. A contract that can be performed in less than a year does not need to be in writing to be enforceable. Of course you will have to prove your agreement. In my opinion, that should not be difficult. You were paid for two months, and probably have records showing the weeks you did the work. I also doubt the person will lie when asked in front of a judge whether he hired you and whether you did the work. This sounds to me like he is trying to bully you into forgetting about the $300. I suggest you send a certified letter demanding payment. Let him know you intend on filing a claim in small claims court if you are not paid. Then, if you still do not get paid, file a claim in small claims court. If you win, you will be entitled to recover your money and the costs of the lawsuit. My guess is the letter you get you the money you are owed.

Q. I let a friend borrow the extra key to my apartment and he lost it. Can I require my landlord to change my locks?

A. Under the law, a landlord has an obligation to change the locks at his expense, when a new tenant moves in. After that time, the landlord must change the locks whenever the tenant requests, as often as the tenant wants. The tenant, however, must pay the costs of installing the new locks. In other words, you can require your landlord to change your locks; however, you must pay the costs.

Q. I am the sole shareholder and president of a small corporation. Does my business need an attorney to file a claim in small claims court?

A. In most cases, a corporation may file a lawsuit only through an attorney. In small claims court, however, any authorized agent, such as the president, may represent a corporation.

Q. If I leave a will with my wish to have my son live with my sister if I die, can my son’s father still get custody of him?

A. You can indicate in your will the person you would like to get custody of your child, but it is not binding on a court. The court will do what is in the best interest of the child, and while your wishes are important, they are not determinative.

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