Does “Buyer Beware” apply to consumer transactions?

There is a legal doctrine called “caveat emptor”–which is latin for “let the buyer beware.” Under this theory, it is the buyer’s obligation to reasonably inspect a good she is purchasing. This means that if the buyer later discovers that the good is defective and that defect should have been discovered upon reasonable inspection, it was the buyer’s own fault.

However, while “buyer beware” is still true generally. If a seller makes representations that a product is in good condition or meets a certain level of quality, a buyer is entitled to believe the seller. In other words, once a seller makes these types of assurances to a buyer, the duty to “beware” shifts from the buyer to the seller. It is no longer “caveat emptor” but “caveat venditor”–which is “let the seller beware.” In these situations, the buyer is allowed to rely on the seller’s representations.

The Idaho Supreme Court has stated:

There is no duty resting upon a citizen to suspect the honesty of those with whom he transacts business. Laws are made to protect the trusting as well as the suspicious. The best element of business has long since decided that honesty should govern competitive enterprises, and that the rule of caveat emptor should not be relied upon to reward fraud and deception.

State ex rel. Kidwell v. Master Distributors, Inc., 101 Idaho 447, 454, 615 P.2d 116, 124 (1980); Citing Federal Trade Comm’n v. Standard Education Society, 302 U.S. 112, 116, 58 S.Ct. 113, 115, 82 L.Ed. 141 (1937)

 Under Idaho law, it is a deceptive act to “[r]epresent[] that goods or services are of a particular standard, quality, or grade, or that goods are of a particular style or model, if they are of another.” Idaho Code 48-603(7). Thus, if a seller is making representations along these lines, the seller better beware that a buyer is entitled to rely on these representations. In fact, Idaho regulations state that a seller “must be able to substantiate all claims or offers made before such claims or offers are advertised.” IDAPA Caveat emptor does not shield a seller in this situation.

Again, though, if a seller does not make any representations about the standard, quality, or grade of the good, the seller has not taken on the burden to beware. In this situation, it is still up to the buyer to perform a reasonable inspection.