Buying a horse is not as straightforward as buying an “off the shelf” product like we do most days; it takes some time and thought and in most cases a process of due diligence. If you have bought a horse and s/he is lame, consider the below:
Did the buyer have a pre-examination?
If the buyer had opted for a veterinary pre-purchase examination, it is always advisable to ask to see the written report. In some cases (many, in fact), what the vet said and what the buyer remembers are often conflicting so it is always worth requesting the written report. If the pre-purchase report says the horse was lame in the same limb now causing the problem, this is a red flag. The buyer, on notice that the horse was lame, would have had a duty to investigate why the horse was lame before buying, not after.
It is typical, if lameness has been identified, that a veterinarian will recommend radiographs or other diagnostics to determine the cause of lameness and/or recommend the horse be re-examined at a later date. This is very common. If, however, the buyer opts to buy the horse without investing in the diagnostics, the buyer is unlikely to have a viable legal case. A buyer should never accept the speculation of a seller on the way to remedy lameness (such as, “I think he might be brewing an abscess.”)
Is the Horse Lame?
Do not accept “opinions” from the seller or trainers of the seller on lameness. If the buyer is to have a legal case in these circumstances, the buyer must engage an independent expert’s opinion that the horse is in fact lame on that specific day (and how lame the horse is on a scale of 1 to 5). The expert (veterinarian) must have inspected the horse in person.
Why is the Horse Lame?
A legal case will require the buyer to be able to prove what’s causing lameness. Therefore, the buyer needs a thorough veterinary diagnosis. If the report given is not conclusive, the buyer will have to invest in further diagnostic tests for a legal case to stand up.
Is the Lameness a Pre-Existing Condition?
To have a viable legal case, the buyer needs to be able to prove the horse was lame at the time of purchase.
Did the Seller Know the Horse was Lame?
If the seller isn’t a “merchant,” for the person buying the horse to have a legal case, they must prove that the horse was not only lame prior to purchase and that the seller knew the horse was lame. Vet records from the time that the seller owned the horse can be useful to prove knowledge. Occasionally, another prospective buyer had a pre-purchase veterinary examination of the horse identifying the lameness and will testify that they shared the results of the examination with the seller.
Did the Seller Disclose the Lameness?
If the seller disclosed the lameness to the buyer, the buyer probably won’t have a viable legal case against the seller. For example, if the seller told the buyer the horse had “a bit of arthritis in his hocks,” the buyer had a legal duty to investigate further by having a veterinarian examine the horse prior to purchase. Also, if the seller released the horse’s vet records to the buyer, and the lameness is reflected in the vet records, the buyer is deemed to have knowledge of the lameness.
What Does the Contract Say?
This should be the first port of call in considering any legal action against a seller. Does the contract of sale say anything about lameness? If it discloses the lameness, the buyer probably won’t have a viable legal case.
An “as is” clause can’t overcome actual fraud – such as if the seller knew the horse was lame and represented it as being sound, drugged it so it would pass the vet check, etc.
if the contract has a return policy it is important that the buyer follows the steps required to return the horse.
What Did the Ad Say?
Did the seller make any specific statements in the advertisement for the horse about the horse’s soundness or suitability for a particular purpose? If so, these statements could form the basis for a warranty claim against the seller.
The above does not form any legal advice and independent legal advice should be sought before progressing to legal action.