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The sale and purchase of horses can lead to complex consumer disputes. When purchasing a horse you are purchasing an unknown quantity with an inherent difficulty in guarding against latent defects.
Transactions involving horses are transactions that are generally governed by the Sale of Goods Act 1979. The act itself provides the following implied terms into any purchase agreement that can be relied on by the purchaser of a horse, that:
- The vendor has the right to sell the horse
- The horse is reasonably fit for any purpose of which the seller has been informed i.e. if the purchaser wants a race horse then the purchased horse should be a race horse
- The horse is not subject to any third party interests that the buyer is aware of
- The horse is of satisfactory quality
The vendor should be mindful that any sale by description carries an implied term that the horse will correspond with that description. Should the seller state that the horse is Kauto Star then it is an implied term in the agreement that any purchaser would be buying Kauto Star and not Weird Al.
The measure of protection afforded to buyers of a horse depends on whether the purchase is from a business or from a private seller.
When buying from a business the purchaser has more protection in that there are implied terms about the quality and fitness for purpose of the horse. The purchaser will be entitled to rely on the expertise of any particular seller and should you make the vendor aware of a particular purpose that you want to use the horse for then the vendor ought to know the horse can fulfil that purpose or advise you accordingly prior to the completion of the transaction.
In a private sale there are no such implied terms as to the quality and the fitness for purpose of a horse. Should a horse be advertised as a having a good record in steeplechases then a prudent buyer ought to check the previous results of the horse. Similarly if a private purchaser is buying a horse for steeplechase racing irrespective of the content of any advertisement it would be advised that the results of the horse are checked in order to establish whether the horse has any form in such a discipline.
Warranties and Conditions of sale contracts
The difference between a warranty and condition is fundamental for the purposes of contract law; however in a nutshell a warranty would perhaps relate to a particular feature of a horse with a condition being a fundamental provision of the sale contract. When a breach of a warranty occurs a purchaser is entitled to damages (for losses incurred); however should a breach of a condition occur then a purchaser can terminate the contractual agreement.
Unsoundness and ‘Vices’
Generally horses are sold with warranties in respect of soundness and lack of ‘vices’.
The leading case of Coates v. Stephens (1838) defines unsoundness as:
‘if at the time of sale a horse has any disease or defect which actually diminishes, or in its ordinary progress will diminish, its normal usefulness, it is not sound’
The condition must exist at the time of sale and in Coates a cough at the time of sale was sufficient to amount to an unsoundness.
Vices are related to the temperament of the horse. Should the horse have any defect in temper which makes it ‘dangerous or diminishes it usefulness’ or should the horse have a habit which may injure its health, then it is possible that the purchaser may have a claim in damages against the seller.
Sale by auction
A buyer should be particularly cautious before purchasing a horse at auction. An auctioneer cannot give a warranty on a horse unless specifically instructed to do so by the seller and as such any prospective purchaser should examine any horse that he or she intends to bid on prior to purchase. A buyer should always review the terms and conditions of sale from the auction house as these will invariably seek to exclude any liability on behalf of the auction house for the condition of the horses and as such a purchaser may be left with a horse with ‘faults’ in the absence of any express assertions by the seller of the horse prior to the auction.
When purchasing a horse it seems sensible to always examine the horse irrespective of who you are buying the horse from. Always reach an agreement in writing with the rights and remedies of either party set out in the terms of the agreement. As the saying goes never assume anything it makes… well you know the rest.
How we can help
We can assist you with drawing up a purchase agreement to mitigate the inherent risks involved with the sale and purchase of a horse as well as dealing with sale of goods disputes that may arise in such transactions. We can also assist with any further legal queries that may arise from the ownership of horses, particularly with regard to livery yard liabilities and riding school liabilities. Regrettably we cannot provide any top tips for Cheltenham.
Civil Litigation Paralegal
The Courtyard, 49 Low Pavement, Chesterfield, Derbyshire, S40 1PB
T: 01246 231 288
If you require more information in relation to the anything detailed above please do not hesitate to contact our Civil Litigation Department on 01246 231288.
This article is intended to provide general information. It is not intended to be comprehensive or provide specific legal advice and should therefore not be acted or relied upon. If you have any specific questions please refer these to a member of the Elliot Mather LLP team.
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