Store might not have any liability for your accident

Richard Alderman

Q. I went to a big-box store last week and had an accident. The manager completed an accident/incident report. I am not sure quite what actually happened, but I wound up in the floor in a sitting position. I hit my knee, and elbow somehow on the way down. I have an appointment with my doctor this week to get checked out. I have never had to deal with something like this, and never expected it. I would like to know what procedures or steps I should take for something like this.

A. I assume your question is whether the store has any responsibility and is liable for your medical bills and other expenses. The answer might not be what you expect.

For the store to be responsible, it must bear some “fault” that caused your accident. In most cases, you must show the store was “negligent” and that is why you were hurt. Negligence basically means not acting as a reasonable person would. For example, if something slippery spilled on the floor and the store did not clean it up properly as soon as they were aware of the spill, they could be considered negligent. If as a result of the spill, you slipped and fell, the store could be liable for your injury. On the other hand, if you just lost your balance and fell, the store would have no liability. The store was not at fault and did not do anything to cause your accident.

This is an example of why it is so important we all have medical insurance. In many cases, no one else is responsible when we have an accident.


Q. Our neighbor installed a new fence between our homes, and did not tell us he was going to do it. After the fence went up, he asked us to pay half the costs of the fence. Do we legally have to pay our half? Does it matter that they did not consult us about the fence?

A. As a general rule, unless you have a homeowner’s or civic association that requires the costs of the fence be divided between the neighbors, you have no obligation to pay half the costs. Your neighbor installed the fence, so it is his fence and he has to pay for it. If he wanted you to pay for half the fence, he should have talked to you before the fence went up and had you to agree to split the costs. Having said that, however, you do benefit from the fence and it does seem fair for you to pay half. But you must make the decision of whether to pay and how much.


Q. I am 67 years old, and had a common law marriage for over 35 years. My husband recently passed. Am I entitled to his Social Security?

A. Under the law, a widow is entitled to receive Social Security Survivor’s benefits upon the death of her husband. The fact that you have a common law marriage does not change your eligibility. As I have said before, as far as the law is concerned, a common law marriage is no different than any other marriage. How much you receive will depend on factors such as how long your husband worked. To learn more about survivor’s benefits, visit the Social Security Survivors Planner,


Q. My stepfather died without a will. Am I entitled to any of his property? He always treated me the same as all of his other children for almost my entire life.

A. Your stepfather may have treated you like his other children, but as far as the law is concerned, you are different and you may not inherit any of his property. But if there is a will, the beneficiaries named in the will, including stepchildren, inherit.