Legal Dictionary

caveat emptor

Definition of caveat emptor


    From caveat ("may he beware"), the subjunctive of caveo ("I beware") + emptor ("buyer").



caveat emptor

  1. Used as a warning to anyone buying something that there might be unforeseen problems or faults with what is bought.
  2. (law) A provision of Roman law which gave the seller of a house the legal right to keep quiet about any defects of a house which he was selling.

Related terms

Further reading

Caveat emptor pronounced /ˌkę.viː.ˈɑːt ˌɛmp.tɒr/ is Latin for "Let the buyer beware".[1] Generally caveat emptor is the property law doctrine that controls the sale of real property after the date of closing.


Under the doctrine of caveat emptor, the buyer could not recover from the seller for defects on the property that rendered the property unfit for ordinary purposes. The only exception was if the seller actively concealed latent defects. The modern trend in the US, however, is one of the Implied Warranty of Fitness that applies only to the sale of new residential housing by a builder-seller and the rule of Caveat Emptor applies to all other sale situations (i.e. homeowner to buyer).[2] Many other jurisdictions have provisions similar to this.

Before statutory law, the buyer had no warranty of the quality of goods. In many jurisdictions, the law now requires that goods must be of "merchantable quality". However, this implied warranty can be difficult to enforce, and may not apply to all products. Hence, buyers are still advised to be cautious.

In addition to the quality of the merchandise, this phrase also applies to the return policy. In most jurisdictions, there is no legal requirement for the vendor to provide a refund or exchange. In many cases, the vendor will not provide a refund but will provide a credit. In the case of software, movies and other copyrighted material many vendors will only do a direct exchange for another copy of the exact same title. Most stores require proof of purchase and impose time limits on exchanges or refunds. However, some larger chain stores will do exchanges or refunds at any time with or without proof of purchase- although they usually require a form of picture ID and place quantity or dollar limitations on such returns.

Laidlaw v. Organ[3], a decision written in 1817 by Chief Justice John Marshall, is believed by scholars to have been the first U.S. Supreme Court case which laid down the rule of caveat emptor in U.S. law.[4]

In the UK, consumer law has moved away from the caveat emptor model, with laws passed that have enhanced consumer rights and allow greater leeway to return goods that do not meet legal standards of acceptance.[5] Many companies operating in the UK, as well as most consumer based economies, will allow customers to return goods within a specified period for a full refund, even if there is no problem with the product.


  1. "Caveat emptor - Definition from the Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary". Merriam-Webster, Incorporated. Retrieved 2008-03-30.
  2. See Stambovsky v. Ackley, 572 N.Y.S.2d 672 (N.Y. App. 1991)
  3. 15 U.S. 178 (1817)
  4. Kaye, Joshua. "Disclosure, Information, the Law of Contracts, and the Mistaken Use of Laidlaw v. Organ." Unpublished. 2007. p. 2.
  5. "Trader's Guide to Civil Law". Trading Standards. Retrieved 2007-11-29.


  • WH Hamilton, 'The Ancient Maxim Caveat Emptor' (1931) 40 Yale Law Journal 1133, who shows that caveat emptor never had any place in Roman law, or civil law, or lex mercatoria and was probably a mistake when implemented into the common law. Rather, there was a duty good faith.

External links


  1. Wiktionary. Published under the Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License.


1.     landed property
2.     lex fori
3.     status quo
4.     ownership
5.     lex loci delicti commissi
6.     lex situs
7.     sodomy
8.     lex causae
9.     unjustified
10.     AORO