By Julie I. Fershtman, Attorney at Law
People occasionally buy horses, sight unseen, based on an ad over the Internet or the recommendation of a friend. Many buyers are completely satisfied with their purchases. Unfortunately, some are not. Legal disputes sometimes follow from settings like these:
- The horse was represented to be of a certain height, but the horse was actually significantly shorter.
- The horse was represented to be “bombproof” or “kid safe,” but instead the buyer found the horse to be dangerous and insufficiently trained.
- The horse may have arrived unsound, and the buyer strongly suspected the problem pre-dated the purchase.
- In some instances, the buyer was convinced that the horse that came off the trailer was a completely different horse than the horse represented in an advertisement.
Added to the complexity, the parties to these sales frequently have no sales contracts.
Legal disputes can be expensive. Here are some options for the parties to consider in an effort to avoid horse purchase disputes when the buyer does not physically examine the horse before making the purchase:
- Get it in writing. If the seller offered the buyer an opportunity to examine the horse in person before the sale, such as allowing the buyer a certain amount of time to hire a veterinarian of his or her choosing, the sales contract can reaffirm this. The contract can also specify whether the buyer has waived this option.
If the buyer is relying on the seller’s promises regarding the horse, such as a promise that the horse has not been lame or ill, the buyer should insist on including these promises in the purchase agreement. Buyers who are denied opportunities to examine the horse before making the purchase should seriously consider whether to buy the horse.
- For buyers who cannot see the horse in person but want to buy the horse, consider hiring an independent professional to evaluate the horse. Buyers who cannot inspect the horse in person can nevertheless hire professionals to do the evaluation for them, such as a respected horse trainer and veterinarian. Technology also exists for these people to video rides and evaluations as they occur, allowing the potential buyer to see remotely how the horse behaves and ask questions while the inspections are in progress.
- Get a drug screen. During the pre-purchase examination, prospective buyers should consider having the veterinarian arrange for a drug screen of the horse.
- Consider requesting the horse’s veterinary history. Buyers can always ask sellers to produce the horse’s veterinary records before making the purchase. If the seller is willing to do this, the sale contract can specify the names of the veterinarians who attended to the horse while the seller owned horse and that the seller has allowed release of the horse’s veterinary records.
- “As-is Contract Language.” Horse sellers sometimes include “as is” clauses in their contracts, through which the buyer agrees that he or she is buying the horse “as is.” As this blog has addressed in the past, these types of clauses may be enforceable but not for all claims. Consequently, buyers and sellers should confer with knowledgeable legal counsel regarding the scope of “as is” clauses before making assumptions on how they impact a party’s rights.
To avoid legal disputes involving horse sales, the parties can protect themselves by using carefully worded written sales agreements. Buyers, even if they cannot examine the horse in person, have numerous options to more fully evaluate the horse before agreeing to make the purchase. Careful advance planning could help avoid legal disputes later.
This article does not constitute legal advice. When questions arise based on specific situations, direct them to a knowledgeable insurance agent or attorney.
About the Author
Julie Fershtman, a lawyer for nearly 31 years, is one of the nation’s most experienced Equine Law practitioners. A Shareholder with Foster Swift Collins & Smith, PC, based in Michigan, she has successfully handled equine cases in 17 jurisdictions nationwide and tried equine cases in 4 states. She has drafted thousands of equine industry contracts and is a Fellow of the American College of Equine Attorneys. Her speaking engagements span 29 states. For more information, visit www.equinelaw.net and www.equinelawblog.com.