Sale of Imperfect Dogs
Although dogs are classed as domestic animals, in the majority of cases a sale of imperfect dogs is treated exactly the same as the sale of goods. If a dog is described inaccurately the purchaser can take action against the seller for misrepresentation or breach of contract. If for example, the seller of the dog stated that it was good with children and you later discovered that the dog was unsuitable with children this would be a misrepresentation.
When you purchase a dog there will be an agreement in place which will include what is known as express terms and implied terms. Express terms are terms agreed between the involved parties. Implied terms are those which are defined through conduct or the law.
When an agreement is made relating to the sale of a dog, there will be express terms that the seller will sell and the buyer will buy for the agreed amount. In the majority of cases nothing more is said between both parties. Nevertheless even though nothing further may have been said when the dog was purchased, there are certain implied terms which are governed by the law. Specific terms are implied by the amendments of the Sale and Supply of Goods Act 1994 or the original Sale of Goods Act from 1979.
This legislation states that there are implied terms in the contract for the sale of goods. These terms relate to the quality of the goods when they are sold during the course of business. However the law becomes a little more complex when it comes to the sale of a dog because when purchasing an animal it is difficult to distinguish what is ‘quality’. Therefore, the court may be reluctant to imply the terms as to the quality of the dog unless there is a defect that the seller knows about or is aware of.
When selling goods, business owners must ensure that they are fit for purpose, of a satisfactory quality and match the description provided by the seller.
Fit for Purpose and Satisfactory Quality
In the case of animals, this would mean that a reasonable person would judge the animal to be of a satisfactory quality at the time they made the purchase.
- They should be in good health
- Accurately match the description in any written or printed material. This means that they are the same breed that was advertised
- As far as possible, the animals should be from good stock
When you purchase an animal that has a physical defect such as eyes or limbs missing or issues which indicate that the dog is not of the breed specified, such as the wrong coloured coat, you are agreeing to this at the point of purchase if you decide to proceed.
Where an animal falls ill after you have made the purchase is a rather grey area. If your newly purchased dog falls ill a few days after purchase, it is likely that it was already suffering from an illness when you purchase it and you are liable for a refund.
In terms of fit for purpose, the dog must be as described. However this is quite difficult to define with animals because they will have different temperaments, likes and dislikes.
In both of the above examples, a question of reasonableness will arise. This will aim to establish whether it was reasonable for the seller to have known or ought to have known.
As a general rule, the principle let the buyer beware ‘Caveat Emptor’ is applicable to the sale of animals. This means that usually it is the responsibility of the buyer to check the suitability of the dog before they commit to the purchase.
Where an animal is sold during the course of business, the seller is usually aware what the animal is being purchased for. Usually animals are purchased as a pet. When the purchase is made, the buyer will rely on both the judgement and skill of the seller. It is therefore an implied term of the agreement that the animal was fit for purpose. If for example a buyer stated to the seller that they required a suitable dog for sharing a home with children, but an aggressive dog was sold to the buyer, the seller may be liable.
Statement of Fact
When purchasing an animal, the seller must not conceal or mislead the buyer. However, where the seller sold a dog that they believed had a placid temperament but the dog later became aggressive once it was in the home of the buyer, it is very unlikely that the seller would be liable in this instance.
Furthermore, sellers cannot be held accountable for ‘patent’ defects. Where a defect is classed as being patent this means that it is so obvious that the buyer should have noticed this for themselves before the decision to purchase was made.
When you purchase a dog from a private seller or established business, it must match the description that was provided.
There are two elements to this:
- the first is the written description. The words and phrases used to describe the dog whether it was in a newspaper, on social media or through the sellers website.
- Secondly you can rely on the verbal exchanges you have with the seller. Therefore it would be wise to ask questions when you purchase. You are well within your rights to request that the dog is checked by a vet before you commit to the purchase.
If you do purchase a dog and it displays with a defect after purchase, it is important that you notify the seller as soon as possible. In many cases the seller will take the dog back and provide a refund. In other instances however, you may need to start formal court proceedings to recover your money. Depending on the severity of the illness or defect it may be necessary to re-house the dog with an owner who can give it the dedicated care that it may need.
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