“Caveat Emptor” is a Latin phrase that translates to “let the buyer beware”. What exactly does this mean? Does the seller have no responsibilities? The answers lie in the Doctrine of Caveat Emptor. Let us learn more about it along with its exceptions.
The Doctrine of Caveat Emptor
The doctrine of Caveat Emptor is an integral part of the Sale of Goods Act. It translates to “let the buyer beware”. This means it lays the responsibility of their choice on the buyer themselves.
It is specifically defined in Section 16 of the act “there is no implied warranty or condition as to the quality or the fitness for any particular purpose of goods supplied under such a contract of sale“
A seller makes his goods available in the open market. The buyer previews all his options and then accordingly makes his choice. Now let’s assume that the product turns out to be defective or of inferior quality.
This doctrine says that the seller will not be responsible for this. The buyer himself is responsible for the choice he made.
So the doctrine attempts to make the buyer more conscious of his choices. It is the duty of the buyer to check the quality and the usefulness of the product he is purchasing. If the product turns out to be defective or does not live up to its potential the seller will not be responsible for this.
Let us see an example. A bought a horse from B. A wanted to enter the horse in a race. Turns out the horse was not capable of running a race on account of being lame. But A did not inform B of his intentions. So B will not be responsible for the defects of the horse. The Doctrine of Caveat Emptor will apply.
However, the buyer can shift the responsibility to the seller if the three following conditions are fulfilled.
- if the buyer shares with the seller his purpose for the purchase
- the buyer relies on the knowledge and/or technical expertise of the seller
- and the seller sells such goods
Learn more about Sale and Agreement of Sale here in detail
Exceptions to the Doctrine of Caveat Emptor
The doctrine of caveat emptor has certain specific exceptions. Let us take a brief look at these exceptions.
1] Fitness of Product for the Buyer’s Purpose
When the buyer informs the seller of his purpose of buying the goods, it is implied that he is relying on the seller’s judgment. It is the duty of the seller then to ensure the goods match their desired usage.
Say for example A goes to B to buy a bicycle. He informs B he wants to use the cycle for mountain trekking. If B sells him an ordinary bicycle that is incapable of fulfilling A’s purpose the seller will be responsible. Another example is the case study of Priest v. Last.
2] Goods Purchased under Brand Name
When the buyer buys a product under a trade name or a branded product the seller cannot be held responsible for the usefulness or quality of the product. So there is no implied condition that the goods will be fit for the purpose the buyer intended.
3] Goods sold by Description
When the buyer buys the goods based only on the description there will be an exception. If the goods do not match the description then in such a case the seller will be responsible for the goods.
4] Goods of Merchantable Quality
Section 16 (2) deals with the exception of merchantable quality. The sections state that the seller who is selling goods by description has a duty of providing goods of merchantable quality, i.e. capable of passing the market standards.
So if the goods are not of marketable quality then the buyer will not be the one who is responsible. It will be the seller’s responsibility. However if the buyer has had a reasonable chance to examine the product, then this exception will not apply.
5] Sale by Sample
If the buyer buys his goods after examining a sample then the rule of Doctrine of Caveat Emptor will not apply. If the rest of the goods do not resemble the sample, the buyer cannot be held responsible. In this case, the seller will be the one responsible.
For example, A places an order for 50 toy cars with B. He checks one sample where the car is red. The rest of the cars turn out orange. Here the doctrine will not apply and B will be responsible.
6] Sale by Description and Sample
If the sale is done via a sample as well as a description of the product, the buyer will not be responsible if the goods do not resemble the sample and/or the description. Then the responsibility will fall squarely on the seller.
7] Usage of Trade
There is an implied condition or warranty about the quality or the fitness of goods/products. But if a seller deviated from this then the rules of caveat emptor cease to apply. For example, A bought goods from B in an auction of the contents of a ship. But B did not inform A the contents were sea damaged, and so the rules of the doctrine will not apply here.
8] Fraud or Misrepresentation by the Seller
This is another important exception. If the seller obtains the consent of the buyer by fraud then caveat emptor will not apply. Also if the seller conceals any material defects of the goods which are later discovered on closer examination then again the buyer will not be responsible. In both cases, the seller will be the guilty party.
Solved Question on Doctrine of Caveat Emptor
Q: While selling mangoes to A, the seller B did not mention that these mangoes will not ripen. This meant A could not make ice cream for his restaurant the next day. Is the seller at fault?
Ans: No, the seller is not at fault. A did not mention his reason for buying the mangoes. Here the rule of ‘let the buyer beware’ will apply.