What rights of redress does a consumer have if they purchase a pet with a health problem? The case of Pendragon v Coom  considers the remedies available.
Ms Pendragon was a dog breeder and in June 2018, she sold an Old English Sheepdog puppy to Ms Coom for the sum of £1,000.
Between late 2018 and early 2019, Ms Coom discovered that the puppy, named Lady, had two health conditions; hip dysplasia and diabetes. In order to address these health issues, Lady was required to undergo a total hip replacement and also receive medication to manage her diabetes.
The Small Claim Hearing
Ms Coom issued court proceedings against Mr Pendragon in the small claims court and limited the amount claimed to £5,000. The judgment focused on the following provisions of the Consumer Rights Act 2015 (“the Act”):
The District Judge found that Lady was not of a satisfactory quality, by reason of her hip dysplasia, and that, provided the cost of repair was of a proportionate value, Ms Coom had a right to “repair”, or rather recover the veterinary bills of treating, Lady. The judge also determined that Ms Coom was entitled to “a reduction in price up to a full refund” pursuant to section 24(2) of the Act.
The District Judge therefore awarded Ms Coom the following:
Ms Pendragon appealed the District Judge’s findings. There were a number of reasons for the appeal, but the following focuses on the findings related to whether Lady was of satisfactory quality and what the appropriate remedy was in the circumstances.
Section 9 of the Act: Satisfactory Quality
Ms Pendragon was unhappy with the District Judge’s finding that Lady was not of a satisfactory quality because, in the case of a living thing, it is not possible to guarantee that there will be no health problems. The appeal judge disagreed and upheld the District Judge’s decision. Yes, any animal may have a latent condition, but that does not mean that such conditions are not caught by the requirement for goods to be of satisfactory quality.
The Appropriate Remedy
The appeal judge disagreed with the District Judge’s assessment that Ms Coom was entitled to recovery of the costs of the veterinary bills, because section 23 of the Act provides a right to have a repair undertaken by the trader. It does not give a right to a consumer to conduct the repairs themselves and then claim the cost.
The statutory remedy available to Ms Coom was either a price reduction or a final rejection pursuant to s 24 of the Act.
The appeal judge stated that, if the veterinary bills were recoverable at all, this would only be as a remedy of damages for breach of contract. He also confirmed that the purpose of damages for breach of contract, is to put the injured party back into the position they would have been in as the contract been properly performed. The costs of cure or repair is not the usual remedy for defective goods, and the usual measure is the difference in value in the goods which has been caused by the breach of the contract.
Here, Lady was deemed to have had no monetary value at all because of hip dysplasia. The judge stated that:
“the cost of remedial works (the veterinary bills) was an inappropriate measure of damages for the sale of a defective chattel, especially when the difference between the value of the goods sold and the value they would have had if in conformity with the contract was reflected in the award of a price reduction.”
In respect of mitigation, the judge held that the victim of a breach of contract can take whatever action they see fit. However, the damages available to a claimant that has not mitigated its loss will be limited by reference to what the financial loss would have been, had reasonable steps to mitigate been taken.
The appeal judge held that the reasonable course for Ms Coom to have taken in these circumstances was to reject the puppy in April 2019, after she had discovered the hip dysplasia. Ms Coom’s emotional attachment to Lady was not a reason to justify the significant financial expenditure in respect of the veterinary bills. The judge stated that:
“She would then have been entitled to recover the price paid for the dog. She might also have been entitled to recover some damages. She would, anyway, have avoided substantial expense that was quite out of proportion to the value the dog.”
Therefore, Ms Pendragon’s appeal was successful to the extent of having the damages award of £3,006.11 substituted to £83.49 (which was the percentage of the uninsured veterinary fees incurred by Ms Coom before April 2019).
Whilst a pet will be much loved by its owner, in the eyes of the law, it is a chattel or just a thing. An owner’s understandable emotional attachment to a pet will not be relevant factor when the court is asked to remedy a potential breach by a trader or breeder. Though this in itself may be disappointing to pet owners, owners can take some comfort from the fact that the provisions of the Consumer Rights Act 2015 will apply to living things. This will at least provide consumer protection to purchasers of new pets.
© Melissa Worth 2021