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Sunday, September 18, 2011

Essay on Caveat Emptor

Caveat Emptor is a common-law maxim that serves as a warning to the buyer of any property, real or personal, that he assumes the risk that the product he is buying might be either defective or unsuitable to his needs.  Simply put, it imposes obligation upon the buyer of a property to examine and check for themselves the things that they intend to purchase.  In case they comply with this obligation, they cannot later on hold the vendor responsible for the defective or broken condition of the thing bought. 

            It must however be stressed that the doctrine of caveat emptor is not designed to encourage the vendors to engage in fraud or bad faith in dealing with buyers.  It only seeks to stress that the buyer has the obligation to examine, judge and double-check the product before it is purchased.  In essence, it serves as a guide for the courts to determine whether the vendor or the purchaser should be held responsible for the damaged or defective goods (“From Caveat Emptor to Caveat Venditor - a Brief History of English Sale of Goods Law”, 2002, p.1).

            For instance in the sale of motor vehicle, it is presumed that before the buyer has delivered the purchase price to the vendor, the buyer has examined the motor vehicle and that he is satisfied of its present condition.  It is also presumed that the buyer is purchasing the property at the same condition it was bought.  The buyer cannot be heard to complain later on and ask for the recovery of the purchase price in case he subsequently finds out that the motor vehicle’s brakes are defective.

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            In the sale of land, it is also presumed that the buyer buys the real property at its present state and condition.  In the absence of an express provision in the contract or fraud the buyer is deemed to have purchased the land together with its defects.  Defects involving land may either be patent, or those that that are obvious, or latent, those that are hidden from view.  The doctrine of Caveat Emptor applies only to patent defects.  This means that the buyer of a real property is under obligation for his own protection to examine the real property for any obvious defects.  Such is the duty of the buyer since the vendor is under no obligation, in the absence of an express provision in the agreement or fraud, to communicate to the buyer any patent defects relative to the acquisition of the land. 

            For instance, the buyer has purchased a house and lot.  After full payment of the purchase price, the purchaser cannot be heard to complain and seek to recover damages from the vendor on the ground that the house is made of weak materials or the roof is defective or the tiles composing the floor of the house is damaged since it is presumed that the buyer has examined the property he is buying.  It is presumed that he has checked the house and lot for any obvious defects.

            While the rationale behind the doctrine of caveat emptor is clear, there are some flaws in this principle that may prejudice the buyer of real property.  One major flaw is that most of the time defects in the property one is buying are not always easily identifiable.  Oftentimes, a basic inspection of the real property will not always be enough for the buyer to immediately discover its flaws.  Most of the time defects in the property one is buying only manifest themselves after the contract has been concluded and after the purchase price has been fully paid.  For instance, the defects in the roofing of the house may only become manifest during the rainy season when the excess waters starts to pour inside the house.  In the same manner, the defects in the foundation of the house may not actually become obvious until the time that the purchaser has actually transferred to the house.  It is possible therefore than a cunning vendor may hide any obvious defects so as to convince the buyer that the property he is buying is free from defects.

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