The H&H has reported the latest outcome in a long running dispute over the sale of a horse which has so far apparently cost the seller over 50 times the sale price.
The case appears to have turned into a dispute about whether the apparent seller was in fact selling the horse as an agent for someone else. A huge amount of court time has been spent deliberating about what the three protagonists – owner, seller and buyer – thought was happening. The appeal court has now sent the case back to the county court to make an objective assessment according to the laws of agency as to which were in actual fact the contracting parties.
What precaution should the buyer take?
Horses are often sold from livery or dealer yards and unfortunately it is not always clear who actually owns them. Sometimes the advert implies a private sale but sometimes the horse is advertised on a dealer’s website and nothing is said about the sale being on behalf of a private owner. A wise precaution for the buyer is to ask to see the passport at the start – almost before looking at the horse.
- From a buyer’s point of view - the trap to avoid is thinking that you are buying from a dealer and that the horse is warranted as being of satisfactory quality and fit for your purpose, and that you will be able to return it if not, only to find out later that it was a private sale and the horse was “sold as seen”. Look at the passport and ask for confirmation that the person named as the owner is the person who is showing the horse to you. If not, you should require a full explanation.
- From a seller’s point of view – if you are selling on behalf of someone else you should make that very clear before the sale is concluded. Otherwise you can end up liable for any problems with the horse.
It is of course never quite as simple as that.
How should the sale of the horse proceed?
There can be all sorts of argument about who said what to whom and the cost of unravelling it all can be enormous. Ideally, the parties should have a short form of contract which names the seller and the buyer as seller and buyer with their full addresses, identifies the horse and states the price. There should be no additional terms tacked on – such as “sold as seen” or “no warranty” or “sound” or “ two weeks trial” etc, unless the parties fully understand what they are signing and what rights they may be giving away and are happy with that.
Sometimes a horse professional is asked to act as the buyer’s agent in finding a suitable horse. Again, if this is the arrangement it should be made crystal clear with a short agency agreement at the outset. The receipt should state clearly who is the seller and who is the buyer and on whose behalf the agent is acting.
What does the law say?
The basic legal principle is, that where the buyer is not told that the person they are dealing with is acting as agent for someone else, the buyer can sue either the agent or the principal. It is therefore always in an agent’s best interest to make their status absolutely clear to the buyer before any deal is done.
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For advice please email our experienced equine law solicitors.