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Mis-selling case identifies the importance of accurate descriptions when selling horses

17 April 2014

A champion show jumper, who sold an elderly horse to one of her riding pupils, faces an estimated £150,000 legal bill after senior judges upheld the buyer’s appeal.

The buyer, a Mr Palmer, sued international 3-day eventer Pat Muir, claiming that in 2007 she sold him a mount that was unfit for purpose. The value of the claim was for less than £9,000.

Ms Muir insisted that she did not actually own the horse, a 14 year old hunter, and was merely acting as an agent for the buyer in the purchase. She denied responsibility for the horse’s health or that it ‘lacked merchantable quality at the time of sale and was unfit for purpose’.

The buyer initially lost the case but the Court of Appeal has now upheld his appeal opening a new chapter in the enormously costly legal saga.

Mr Palmer argued that he had asked Ms Muir to keep an eye out for a suitable mount for him to use as a novice eventer and initially agreed to pay £5,000 for the hunter in the belief that he was an 11 year old. The price of the horse was later dropped to £2,750 after he learnt that the horse was in fact 14. Once bought, the horse was found to have an abnormal gait which caused him to occasionally lose balance. The horse then went lame and was put out to grass. A vet later declared the horse unsuitable to ride and eventually he was put down in 2008 for medical reasons. A post mortem examination of the animal revealed that one of his front hooves was bigger than the other.

The court was told that the horse turned out to be of unsatisfactory quality and unfit for purpose. It was bought from Ms Muir in the course of her business as a horse trainer and occasional dealer, and the sale was, therefore, subject to statutory implied terms as to quality and fitness for purpose. Ms Muir’s defence was that she did not own the horse and the buyer knew this. She said that she was merely helping him find a horse in response to a request that she should source one.

At the original hearing the judge found in favour of Ms Muir. However, the Court of Appeal said that the vital points in the case were the nature of the agreement and whether the horse was, in fact, defective. Granting permission for a full appeal hearing, the judges concluded that there was a need to establish the actual condition of the horse at the point of sale.

This case is another clear illustration of the need when selling horses to ensure that they are fit for purpose and of a suitable quality for the purchaser’s intended activity.

For further information on any equine related matters, please speak to our agriculture and estates department.

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Robin Beckley MA (Oxon)
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