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You can sue in justice court for damage caused by a fender bender

Richard M.  Alderman Interim Dean of the Law Center

Richard M. Alderman
Interim Dean of the Law Center

Q. I had a small “fender-bender” with another motorist. Neither of us wanted to report the accident to our insurance company, so he just agreed to pay my repair bill. Now he won’t pay. The damage to my car is only a couple of hundred dollars. What can I do?
A. First, in my opinion, even if you believe you are going to settle a matter without involving the insurance companies, you should exchange insurance information. Texas law requires automobile insurance and you should make sure the other driver has it. You also can never be sure of the full extent of the damage caused by a “fender bender.”
Assuming you don’t want to get your insurance company involved, this may be a good case for justice court. I suggest you send him a certified letter demanding that he pay as he promised. Let him know that if you cannot settle the matter, you will consider a claim in justice court. If you do not resolve the dispute, file a petition with the appropriate court, usually the one in the precinct where he lives. Remember, you may sue in justice court for as much as $10,000.
Q. I have a friend who has not paid her rent and has been give notice to get out of her apartment. She wants to know what will happen next. She is desperately trying to find a new place to live. She is afraid the landlord is just going to throw her out.
A. If your friend has not paid rent the landlord has the right to evict her from the apartment. To evict her, however, the landlord must go to court, give your friend an opportunity to have a hearing before a judge, and then have the eviction handled by the constable. The landlord does not have the right to just “throw her out” or lock her out of the apartment. The legal process may take a few weeks, and she will first be give notice of when the eviction hearing will take place. My suggestion is for your friend to let the landlord she is going to move as soon as possible, and to definitely be out before the constable takes her property. For more information about how the eviction process works, look at the landlord/tenant section on my website, www.peopleslawyer.net.
Q. I share a backyard fence with my neighbor. The so-called “good” side of the fence faces my neighbor’s property. My neighbor installed the fence about
15 years ago. Now the fence is beginning to lean. My neighbor claims the weed-eater used by my lawn service company is cutting the fence posts causing the fence to lean. Who is responsible for repairing or replacing the fence?
A. If in fact your lawn service company has caused the fence to lean, it would be responsible for the costs of repair. In my opinion, however, it is unlikely that a weed-eater has caused this problem. It may be that the fence is just old and needs to be replaced. If that is the case, if the neighbor wants to fix the fence he is probably responsible for the costs. Unless you have home-owners’ or civic association rules requiring that neighbors split the costs of a fence, the owner of the fence is responsible to maintain it. If it needs to be replaced he can replace it or just tear it down. There is no legal obligation of a neighbor to contribute to the cost of repairing or replacing the fence.
In most cases, however, neighbors voluntarily agree to share the costs. In my opinion, the neighborly thing to do is share some of the expenses of repairing or replacing the fence. If you cannot afford to do this or simply do not want to, I do not believe your neighbor can force you help out with the costs.
Q. Can I be arrested for not paying my credit card bill?
A. No! There is no debtor’s prison in Texas. If you don’t pay the money you owe you may be sued, but you cannot be put in jail. In fact, any threat to throw you in jail for not paying your bills violates both federal and state debt collection law. For more information about what may happen if you don’t pay your bills, look at the debt collection on my website below.


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