To most of us, animals are more than just pets; they are members of the family. We treat our pets with the utmost care. We take them to doggy daycare so they will not be lonely while we are at work, we groom them and pay for their medical expenses, and we patronize pet bakeries for treats. When we spend so much time doting on our animals, we expect that they arrive with a clean bill of health. So what happens when a breeder sells you a pet with an infection?
A Pet Is a “Good”
Though we may see our animals as family, in the eyes of the law they are technically a “good.” This is not to downgrade their status, but to protect you as a consumer. Since your family pet is a good, a set of rights known as “contract law” protect your purchase.
The sale of a good (yes, even that cute little puppy in the window), comes with what is referred to as an “implied warranty.” Pets are covered under a law known as the Uniform Commercial Code, which means that sellers are required to fulfill a certain number of duties during the course of the sale—whether those duties are expressly written in a contract or not.
As a consumer, you have certain rights when you buy an animal from a qualified merchant. For legal purposes, a merchant is anyone who sells goods by occupation. For pets, a merchant can be a pet store, a person who sells animals on a regular basis, or a breeder.
Goods Have Implied Warranties
Implied warranty law covers a pet since it is a good. Implied warranties are just that: not expressly written. The sale of any pet carries with it the assumption that the pet is healthy and without any visible health conditions.
A seller breaches an implied warranty when he or she sells you a pet that is “unmerchantable.” The law defines unmerchantability on a case-by-case basis, but generally, a pet owner must prove that the animal purchased was unfit in some way. The law is clearer when it comes to animals that serve a purpose: For example, a hunting dog with a heart condition that keeps it from hunting/performing its duties would be unmerchantable. In the case of companion animals, however, the law is not always so clear.
Parasite infections pose a danger to both the pet and any humans who contact it. Since many types of parasites are communicable from pet to owner, a merchant would violate implied warranty in selling an animal with an infection—regardless of the pet’s purpose.
What Recourse Is There for the Wronged Party?
If a breeder sells you an animal with a parasite infection, he or she has done more than simply breach an implied warranty; the health of your family and new pet has been put at risk. A buyer can return an “unmerchantable” animal to the seller legally, but for the many families who bond with their new pets, this is not feasible.
As with most areas of law, the recourse for the parties responsible is determined on a case-by-case basis. Some suppliers may have to pay damages up to or beyond the purchasing price of the animal, while others may be responsible for paying any applicable veterinary bills.
If you believe a pet seller sold you an unfit animal and breached implied warranty, your best course of action is to get in touch with an experienced law firm. An attorney with a track record of excellence can provide you with the best advice and take steps to punish the guilty party’s negligence. For a free initial consultation, contact our law firm today.