Store Has Certain Responsibilities to Customer, Regardless of Bailment

Q. Recently, I went to the optical department of a store to have my prescription lenses replaced. Instead of purchasing new frames, I decided to use the old pair. After giving the store a check, I noticed that there was a disclaimer of responsibility on the receipt that said the store was not responsible for loss or damage to a frame provided by a patient. I asked the optician about this, but he told me not to worry because no frames had ever been lost. He said the disclaimer was there because the frames were sent to another place where the lenses were made.

Can the store make such a disclaimer of responsibility? What happens if the optician intentionally throws my frames away? Would the store have no responsibility? This hardly seems fair!

FG, Yorba Linda

A. The relationship that you have with the store is called a bailment. A bailment is when a person deposits personal property with another under an agreement or a contract for a specific purpose.

The general rule is that the bailee (the person who receives the property) must use the same care that an ordinary prudent person would toward his property.

The general rule, however, can be changed by an agreement between the parties such as the one you have described. This agreement would basically protect the bailee from liability for simple negligence. The bailee would still be responsible for fraud or intentional injury to property.

Q. I have been sick for the last three months and have been unable to work. I spoke to the manager of my apartment building and explained my problem with paying the rent. He said he understood, and that I didn't have to worry because I had always paid on time before.

You can imagine how shocked I was when I got the eviction papers! I tried to talk to the manager, but he said he would see me in Municipal Court in Santa Ana. I want to fight this because I feel I was tricked.

I understand that I have to pay a fee to file papers in my defense. What happens if I can't afford this fee?

PY, Santa Ana

A. You may avoid paying the fee for filing what is known as an answer if you are receiving assistance from certain types of governmental programs such as Food Stamps and County Relief. You may also be eligible for the waiver of the fee if your gross monthly income is less than the amount contained in a schedule kept by the Municipal Court. The amount varies depending upon the number of your dependents. Waiver may also be obtained if your income is inadequate to pay for both the fee and for support of you and your dependents.

The clerk's office in the Santa Ana Municipal Court has an information sheet that contains the court's schedule and lists the requirements for obtaining the waiver. The clerk's office will also have the forms you must complete in order to apply for the waiver.

Q. Our 19-year-old son pleaded guilty to the misdemeanor offense of shoplifting. He had never been in trouble before and was told to pay a fine. He was also given something called informal probation. What is this?

CW, Cypress

A. Informal probation is a type of probation where the defendant is given certain terms and conditions to obey as part of his sentence. It differs from formal probation in that there is no probation officer to whom the defendant reports. The defendant, instead, reports to the court upon whatever terms the court may direct.

If the defendant violates the conditions of his probation, e.g., by not paying the fine, the court can impose additional penalties on the defendant.

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