Legal Questions and Answers for the Horse Community

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Rachel Kosmal McCart
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Buyer's Remorse and Seller's Recourse

Q: I had a 14-year-old well-trained ranch horse for sale. A couple came out to look at him and decided on the spot that they wanted him. They gave me a check and I gave them a bill of sale that specified the horse was sold as is.?span style="mso-spacerun: yes"> They told me they would return with a trailer to pick up the horse. A week and a half later, they picked up the horse and then called me later that day to tell me that they had a vet check him over and that they didn't want the horse because he had ringbone. They showed up at my place and unloaded the horse. I called the vet who had performed the vet check and he said hed told the buyers that he couldn't tell if the horse has ringbone without X-rays, which they refused to get. The horse is sound today. Three weeks later, I haven't heard from the buyers, but I still have their money and their horse. What are my options ?

A: Because the full purchase price and a bill of sale changed hands, the sale of the horse was completed. You were wise to specify in the bill of sale that the horse was sold as is,?which makes it very clear that the sale was not contingent upon the outcome of a vet check. It simply appears as though the buyers changed their minds, but they are bound by the sale contract.

What this means for you is that you have no duty to continue to keep this horse, which now belongs to the buyers, without charge. Accordingly, I recommend that you immediately send a letter to the buyers and inform them that they must come and pick up their horse without further delay and that you will be charging them board at the rate of X dollars for each day that the horse remains on your property. Send the letter via a means that provides for proof of delivery (e.g., Federal Express). If they do not respond to the letter or pick up the horse, you should keep track of board from the date of sale, being sure to send them itemized invoices regularly.

One important note: You have potential liability for any damage or injury to the horse caused by negligence while the horse is in your possession. While the horse is in your possession, you must take reasonable and customary care of it, including proper nutrition, health and hoof care. However, you can also bill these expenses to the horse't owners.

Clients often ask me when they can sell a horse in these types of situations. Legally, this horse is the buyers?property and therefore it would be a criminal offense for you to sell him. Interestingly, California animal abandonment laws only seem to address animals abandoned in public places, not on private property. However, under California stableman's lien laws, you may file a suit to obtain a judgment against the buyers for unpaid board, and then with that judgment, obtain a court order to sell the horse to satisfy the judgment. If the amount that the buyers owe you is less than $5,000, you can bring your claim in small claims court in the county where you live. Keep in mind that when you sell the horse, you may keep only the amount of the judgment, and the remainder must be turned over to the court for remittance to the horse's owners.

About the Author: Rachel Kosmal McCart, the founder of Equine Legal Solutions, is a lifelong horsewoman and experienced lawyer. Equine Legal Solutions, the Legal Counsel with Horse Sense TM , offers a full range of legal services for the horse community, including dispute resolution, customized contracts and risk management assessment.
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