Think returns as you shop

Q. I received a gift for the holidays. When I opened it, I discovered I had already bought the same thing for myself. I went to return it and the store pointed to a sign that said, “No returns, exchange only,” and told me I could not return it. There is nothing else I want in that store. Are they right? This doesn’t seem fair.

A. It might not seem fair, but a store has the right to determine whether and on what terms items may be returned. Whenever you buy something, you enter into a contract with the store. The terms of that contract generally are not discussed. For example, little is usually said about your right to return an item if you do not like it. This means that your rights are what a reasonable person would expect them to be. As a general rule, if you are not satisfied with a gift for any reason, you may return it for a refund or exchange. Your rights, however, may be changed by agreement.

For example, a store may sell an item subject to a “final sale.” This means that customers have no right to a return or exchange simply because they don’t like it or change their minds. A store also may limit the right to a refund by stating, “no refund, store credit or exchange only.” If the person who buys the gift is informed of these conditions prior to the sale, for example, by a sign near the register, the conditions become part of the contract and are binding on the purchaser as well as whomever receives the gift. Assuming the sign was up when the gift was purchased, you do not have the right to return it instead must exchange it for something else.

The bottom line is that whenever you receive a gift, you are bound by whatever contract the person who gave you the gift entered into with the store. The time to be concerned with refunds and exchanges is when the gift is purchased.

Q. I own a large dog. I live near a field where kids play and sometimes throw a ball into my yard. Am I responsible if a kid climbs over my fence and is bitten?

A. The owner of a dog is responsible for a dog bite only if the owner was negligent in protecting people from the dog. If you take reasonable steps to keep the dog fenced in, and a child climbs over the fence, in my opinion you have no responsibility. On the other hand, if you know kids are still climbing over the fence, you might want to take some additional steps, such as posting signs on the fence with a picture of a dangerous dog.

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