Store not responsible for damage from cart

Q. I recently left a store and found a shopping cart up against my car in the parking lot. It obviously had gone quite a distance to get there because it left a scratch. Is the store liable for the damage to my car?

A. The store probably is not responsible. Simply because the store owns the cart and the parking lot does not mean it is liable. In order for the store to be liable, it is necessary to show that the store was “negligent” in dealing with the shopping carts. If it was simply an accident or the fault of another customer, the store probably is not liable. For example, in most cases, grocery stores either have places to store used carts or staff that go into the lot and retrieve carts. Assuming that the store does this, it probably has no liability simply because a customer doesn’t take the time to put the cart where it belongs. If a customer carelessly left the cart in the lot and a strong wind blew it into your car, the store has no liability. In fact, the person who left the cart may be liable because he or she was negligent in leaving the cart where it could roll into your car. On the other hand, in my opinion, the store has an obligation to routinely patrol the lot and pick up loose carts or provide a location for customers to drop them off. If the store doesn’t do this and that is why the cart was in a position to roll into your car, the store could be liable. The bottom line is that a store is not automatically responsible for things that happen on it’s property. To impose liability, you usually must establish some degree of fault.

Q. Am I entitled to paid leave when I have a child? My employer has told me any leave will be without pay.

A. Under the Family and Medical Leave Act, you may be entitled to up to 12 weeks leave, depending on the size the company and how long you have worked there. The law, however, does not require that the leave be with pay. All you may be legally titled to is an unpaid leave.

Q. My will is in my safe deposit box. I have been told to get it out because after I die no one is allowed into the box until after probate. Is this true?

A. No. Under the law, you are allowed to get into the safe deposit box of a deceased person with a court order from a probate court with jurisdiction over the deceased’s estate. Also, the judge or a judge’s representative must be present when the safe deposit box is opened.

The Center for Consumer Law at the University of Houston Law Center will present the latest session of the People’s Law School. This free program is your chance to learn more about your legal rights, and get help with basic legal problems.

There will be classes in 14 different areas of law. Everything from consumer law and debt collection, to family law, basic business and landlord tenant rights. There will be classes in finding the law on the Internet and using small claims court, as well as specialists teaching you about bankruptcy, health insurance, employment and immigration law. A local volunteer judge, attorney or law professor will teach each class, and everyone receives extensive written material.

The People’s Law School will be held at the Law Center Saturday, April 7, on the main campus of the University. Everyone may select three courses to attend. As I said, the program is free, but you must register in advance. To register or get more information, go to www.peopleslawyer.net

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