Buyer beware  explained

Buyer beware explained


By Joanna Connolly, head of consumer credit at MSB Solicitors LLP.

The Latin for ‘buyer beware’ is 'caveat emptor’. This is a maxim (principle) which means that the purchaser of goods must take care to ensure that they are free from defects of quality, fitness, or title. In other words, all the risk is borne by the purchaser and not by the seller. If the goods turn out to be defective, the purchaser has no remedy against the seller.


It is particularly relevant in property transactions, where the seller is legally obliged not to mislead the buyer, but other than that the onus is on the buyer to satisfy himself that the property is in the condition he wants.


The rule does not apply if the purchaser is unable to examine the goods, for instance if the defects are not evident from a reasonable examination, or if the seller has behaved fraudulently.


Legislation in the UK does afford some degree of protection to the purchaser in certain cases. Consumer law has moved away from the ‘caveat emptor’ approach with laws passed such as the Sale of Goods Act 1979, the Sale and Supply of Goods Act 1994, and the Unfair Contract Terms Act 1977, which have enhanced consumer rights and allow greater leeway for consumers to return goods that do not meet legal standards of acceptance.

Many companies which operate in the UK, as well as most consumer based economies, will allow customers to return goods within a specified period for a full refund, even if there is no problem with the product.


Up until recently it was thought that ‘caveat emptor’ still applied to goods purchased from auction houses. However, there has been a recent case in Dorset County Court in which District Judge J. Freeman ruled against the legal convention of caveat emptor when a “material misdescription” in cataloguing and, more importantly, the presentation of the lot in an image supplied with the auctioneers description, had led to a purchase. 


The ruling could now set a precedent for similar cases which come up in local courts. It means that the traditional defence of ‘caveat emptor’ may not offer such a legal absolution for auctioneers in the future, and it also means that auctioneers will have to be more careful about how they present lots in images promoting sales. 


This is an example of how UK law is evolving, giving the consumer greater protection and moving away from the maxim of ‘caveat emptor’.


Disclaimer: The views expressed in these articles are the views of the author only. No liability attaches to you for any advice given in the absence of a written retainer. If any issues affect you, you must instruct a solicitor and take appropriate legal advice.


Joanna Connolly is head of consumer credit at well-established Liverpool law firm MSB Solicitors LLP.
She has a particular interest in consumer credit and the enforceability of consumer credit agreements.
In addition to debt and insolvency expertise, MSB represents clients across Britain and internationally.


To contact Joanna Connolly directly e-mail or call MSB Solicitors on 0151 254 2200