Richard Chamberlain answers: The law treats differently a private seller of goods and a ‘dealer’. In this context, a ‘dealer’ is anyone who buys and sells horses regularly (or at least from time to time and for the purposes of profit) or someone who is professionally involved in the riding or training of horses. For example, this would include a breeder or riding school proprietor.
Under the Sale of Goods Act 1979, the buyer of a horse from a dealer may be able to return the horse to the dealer and claim a refund of the purchase price, if the horse was not of satisfactory quality, taking into account its age and fitness for the purposes for which it was sold.
The success or failure of any such claim will depend upon the description that was applied to the horse by the dealer at the time of sale, and the assurances that the buyer was given by the dealer regarding the suitability of the horse for the uses which the buyer proposed for it.
However, if the seller of the horse is not a dealer, the Sale of Goods Act does not apply and the principle of ‘Caveat Emptor’ (‘buyer beware’) applies. This means that the buyer will only be able to rescind the contract (and claim a refund of the purchase price plus damages), if he or she can show that the seller made untrue and misleading representations of fact about the horse, upon which the buyer relied when making his or her decision to purchase it. Such a claim will be under the Misrepresentation Act 1967 and can only be brought in respect of false or misleading representations of fact.
This means that any general comments that a private seller may have made about the horse’s nature and suitability for a particular purpose, will not be sufficient grounds for a claim. The private seller will have had to have made specific statements of fact about the horse which have proved to be untrue and misleading, and which were fundamental to the buyer’s decision to buy.
Pursuing a claim
From all the information you have given, it is clear that you were entirely honest and open with the buyer. And you certainly made no statements of fact about the horse which were untrue and misleading. Indeed, you did everything correctly. You invited the purchaser to have the horse vetted by her own vet. You informed the buyer of the horse’s correct age and of her ‘quirks’. You made no statements of fact about the horse which were untrue.
Therefore, in these circumstances, the buyer can have no grounds upon which to reject the horse and
claim a refund, or any compensation. Once the sale was concluded and the purchase price paid, the horse became the buyer’s property, with no recourse against you, the seller, whatever its failings.
However, if a disgruntled buyer should pursue a claim, it is worth remembering that if the value of the claim is less than the County Court Small Claims costs limit (currently £5,000), neither side will be able to recover legal costs against the other, regardless of who wins. This means that it will be uneconomic for a buyer to use a solicitor to present his or her claim, but it will also be uneconomic for a seller to use a solicitor to defend such a claim.