Caveat Emptor

While the public generally has limited knowledge of the law, people do tend to know, or rather think they know, that once they buy something, they can't get their money back no matter what…even if it's not what they thought they were buying, it doesn't work like they thought it would, it keeps breaking down , or it doesn't do what they were told it would do. There is some good news, which under certain circumstances would qualify the legal principle of "buyer beware". You might have recourse to the law and be able to get your money back, if you, for example, later learn that the antique is not what the dealer said it was, or find that the expensive shirt began to fray after a few months

Ontario legislation may be of assistance to consumers. Statutes such as the Consumer Protection Act and the Sale of Goods Act, which do afford limited protection, are frequently interpreted by the Courts in favour of aggrieved individuals, and even businesses. However, there also exists the "common law", which is an ever-expanding body of law, created by Judges over the years, that can be relied on in Court.

An example from my practice illustrates the point. Mr. Smith purchased an expensive antique armoire from a dealer who had a sound reputation and had been in business for many years. The client bought the cupboard through e-mail, receiving photos of it, being told that there had been only minor alterations/repairs to the piece, and learning of the importance of the armoire in terms of being a good quality representation of a rare piece of early Canadiana. After paying for it the client learned that there had been extensive repairs and alterations, and that it was not worth anywhere close to what he had paid…it was nothing extraordinary. At first instance one might think the client was foolish, he should have done his "due diligence" before buying, and that he must live with his mistake. However, if the seller induced the buyer with negligent or fraudulent misrepresentations, or if there was a complete lack of what is known as "consideration" flowing from the seller to the buyer (i.e. the buyer got virtually nothing in exchange for paying the money), the transaction can be set aside by the Court and the vendor ordered to return the full purchase price.

There are numerous legal principles that can be used to advance your position in attempting to obtain justice. In the example provided, we have misrepresentation and lack of consideration. Cases with different facts might rely on other principles Courts might be willing to entertain. They include: 1) The product must be of merchantable quality, or put another way, of such a minimum standard that the ordinary person should be expected to pay for it; 2) What were the reasonable expectations of the parties at the time that the transaction was completed? Frequently a vendor might recognize that his reputation is at stake, and reimburse the full price without much of a fight. In the noted case, the dealer had a reputation to uphold, and he knew that word would spread like wildfire if he didn't reimburse. There is also the ability to obtain the opinion of a recognized expert to marshall your position. This holds true not only with antiques and other unique items, but also with equipment, vehicles, and so on.

I have outlined a few of the many principles and ideas that can be used by you, or perhaps creative counsel, in countering CAVEAT EMPTOR. As suggested, in the legislation there are specific provisions that can also be relied upon. Before giving up, you should speak to someone who might know a little bit more than you , so that you can assess whether you should retain a lawyer, and for what purpose. Perhaps a well-worded letter or two, and some hard negotiations, will result in justice at a reasonable cost.