Caveat emptor

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For the album by Red Flag, see Caveat Emptor (album).

Caveat emptor /ˌkævɛɑːt ˈɛmptɔːr/ is Latin for "Let the buyer beware"[1] (from caveat, "may he beware", a subjunctive form of cavēre, "to beware" + ēmptor, "buyer"). Generally, caveat emptor is the contract law principle that controls the sale of real property after the date of closing, but may also apply to sales of other goods. The phrase caveat emptor arises from the fact that buyers typically have less information about the good or service they are purchasing, while the seller has more information. The quality of this situation is known as 'information asymmetry'. Defects in the good or service may be hidden from the buyer, and only known to the seller.

A common way that information asymmetry between seller and buyer has been addressed is through a legally-binding warranty, such as a guarantee of satisfaction. But without such a safeguard in place the ancient rule applies, and the buyer should beware.


Under the principle of caveat emptor, the buyer could not recover damages from the seller for defects on the property that rendered the property unfit for ordinary purposes. The only exception was if the seller actively concealed latent defects or otherwise made material misrepresentations amounting to fraud.

Before statutory law, the buyer had no express warranty ensuring the quality of goods. In England, common law requires that goods must be "fit for the particular purpose" and of "merchantable quality", per Section 15 of the Sale of Goods Act but this implied warranty can be difficult to enforce and may not apply to all products. Hence, buyers are still advised to be cautious.

United States[edit]

The modern trend in the US, however, is one of the implied warranty of fitness that applies only to the sale of new residential housing by a builder-seller and the caveat emptor rule applies to all other sale situations (e.g. homeowner to buyer).[2] Other jurisdictions have provisions similar to this.

In addition to the quality of the merchandise, this phrase also applies to the return policy. In most jurisdictions, there is no legal requirement for the vendor to provide a refund or exchange. In many cases, the vendor will not provide a refund but will provide a credit. In the cases of software, movies, and other copyrighted material, many vendors will only do a direct exchange for another copy of exactly the same title. Most stores require proof of purchase and impose time limits on exchanges or refunds. Some larger chain stores, such as F.Y.E., Staples, Target, or Walmart, will, however, do exchanges or refunds at any time, with or without proof of purchase, although they usually require a form of picture ID and place quantity or dollar limitations on such returns.

Laidlaw v. Organ,[3] a decision written in 1817 by Chief Justice John Marshall, is believed by scholars to have been the first U.S. Supreme Court case which laid down the rule of caveat emptor in U.S. law.[4]

United Kingdom[edit]

In the UK, consumer law has moved away from the caveat emptor model, with laws passed that have enhanced consumer rights and allow greater leeway to return goods that do not meet legal standards of acceptance.[5] Consumer purchases are regulated by the Consumer Rights Act 2015, whilst business-to-business purchases are regulated by the Sale of Goods Act 1979.

In the UK, consumers have the right to a full refund for faulty goods. However, traditionally, many retailers allow customers to return goods within a specified period (typically two weeks to two months) for a full refund or an exchange, even if there is no fault with the product. Exceptions may apply for goods sold as damaged or to clear.

Goods bought through "distance selling," for example online or by phone, also have a statutory "cooling off" period of fourteen calendar days[6] during which the purchase contract can be cancelled and treated as if not done.

Although no longer applied in consumer law, the principle of caveat emptor is generally held to apply to transactions between businesses unless it can be shown that the seller had a clear information advantage over the buyer that could not have been removed by carrying out reasonable due diligence.


Caveat venditor[edit]

Caveat venditor is Latin for "let the seller beware." It is a counter to caveat emptor and suggests that sellers can also be deceived in a market transaction. This forces the seller to take responsibility for the product and discourages sellers from selling products of unreasonable quality.

In the landmark case of MacPherson v. Buick Motor Co. (1916), New York Court Appeals Judge Benjamin N. Cardozo established that privity of duty is no longer required in regard to a lawsuit for product liability against the seller. This case is widely regarded[by whom?] as the origin of caveat venditor as it pertains to modern tort law in US.

Caveat lector[edit]

Caveat lector is Latin for "let the reader beware." One variant of this phrase is "caveat auditor", where the caveat is addressed to any receiver of a given (kind of) message (not necessarily a written one).

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Caveat emptor - Definition from the Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary". Merriam-Webster, Incorporated. Retrieved 2008-03-30. 
  2. ^ See Stambovsky v. Ackley, 572 N.Y.S.2d 672 (N.Y. App. 1991).
  3. ^ 15 U.S. 178 (1817)
  4. ^ Kaye, Joshua. "Disclosure, Information, the Law of Contracts, and the Mistaken Use of Laidlaw v. Organ." Unpublished. 2007. p. 2.
  5. ^ "Trader's Guide to Civil Law". Trading Standards. Retrieved 2007-11-29. 
  6. ^ "Changing your mind about something you've bought". 


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