Equestrian law: advice
PUBLISHED: 00:16 25 December 2010 | UPDATED: 18:21 20 February 2013
Following the festive season, many readers may have purchased a horse as a gift to a loved one for Christmas. Andrew Flagg, a litigation solicitor at Dawson Hart, gives some legal advice
Generally the purchase of any horse (or other item) is made subject to the rule of caveat emptor (buyer beware), which means that the purchase is made at the buyer's risk. Each sale is, however, dependent on the facts and the following are examples where the seller could be held liable to the buyer for defects discovered after purchase:
1) In a recent case, a buyer purchased a horse for their daughter for pleasure riding and participation in local competitions. A five stage vetting was carried out by a qualified vet prior to purchase and discussions took place with the seller as to the physical qualities of the horse. The seller advised the buyer that the horse had previously broken her knees and had a tendon stretched when she was younger. On this basis the buyer agreed to purchase the horse, but it was subsequently discovered that the horse had, prior to its purchase, been diagnosed with Kissing Spine which meant that it could not be ridden.
A claim was pursued on the basis that the statement made by the seller was misleading and therefore could amount to a false statement of fact (in law this is known as a misrepresentation). The buyer was successful in obtaining an award for damages, which was calculated on the basis of the original contract price, the subsequent veterinary costs to treat the Kissing Spine and the costs of the stabling and livery for the horse.
A claim against the treating vet was also considered but on these facts it was unlikely to succeed (and therefore was not pursued) as it could not be shown that Kissing Spine would ordinarily be discovered by a five stage vetting test.
2) In situations where a horse is purchased from a dealer or otherwise from a seller who is acting in the course of a business, the law implies certain terms into the contract for sale. For example, that the horse purchased will be of satisfactory quality. This is assessed with reference to all the circumstances, i.e. what is to be reasonably expected by the buyer, taking into account the age, size and history of the horse.
In addition, if you as the buyer make it known to the seller that you are purchasing the horse for a particular purpose then the law will imply a term that the horse is reasonably fit for that purpose.
The law offers an important further protection for buyers where, within six months from the date of purchase, the horse is returned on the basis that it does not conform to the contract (i.e. that the item is not of satisfactory quality or is not fit for purpose) then the burden is on the seller to show that at the time of purchase, it did. This is significant because in most other cases the burden is on the buyer to prove their claim.
A successful claim in these circumstances could result in an award of damages to compensate the buyer for the losses suffered and/or the contract being rescinded (i.e. treated as though it never existed).
For advice on all equine matters please contact Alison Sparks or Andrew Flagg in our Litigation Department on 01825 762 281 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Dawson Hart offer a fixed fee interview at all times during opening times of 08:00 to 18:30 and free advice on the first Saturday of each month.