Duhaime's Law Dictionary

Caveat Emptor Definition:

Latin: buyer beware.

Related Terms: Caveat

Let the buyer beware or that the buyers should examine and check for themselves things which they intend to purchase and that they cannot later hold the vendor responsible for the broken condition of the thing bought.

A maxim of Roman law now part of British-tradition common law, that a buyer's omission to make fundamental inquiries and inspection(s) of property leaves the purchase of deficient property at the buyer's peril if he does not.

In Spivey, Justice reagan noted:

"Caveat emptor, let the buyer beware, has been part of the English language since 1523, when it was used in connection with the sale of a horse, which might have been ridden upon and be tame or might be wylde. If wylde, it was not the merchant who had to beware, but caveat emptor be ware thou byer."

Given the powerful effects of caveat emptor, many jurisdictions have sought to defeat or defuse it by introducing consumer protection or sale of goods legislation but especially as regards land, the maxim may apply.

A person who buys a house sight unseen, and with no third-party inspection, who later seeks to reverse the sale because of some issue related to fitness for habitation, may well have no remedy because of caveat emptor.

In a 1995 Supreme Court of Canada case, Winnipeg Condo #36 v Bird Construction, the Court adopted these words:

"(T)he doctrine of caveat emptor ... has lost little of its pristine force in the sale of land (and) dictates that, in the absence of an express warranty, there is no implied warranty of fitness for human habitation upon the purchase of a house already completed at the time of sale.

"The maxim ... operates as between purchaser and vendor (and) instructs the potential purchaser to rely upon his own investigations, inspections and inquiries.

"The concept of buyer beware tells the potential purchaser that if it seeks greater protection than its own investigations, inspections and inquiries provide, it should seek appropriate warranties from the vendor or, if that cannot be bargained, to seek out an insurer to cover anticipated future risks."


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