Caveat Emptor?

Leonard M. Goldstein, LLC  close

Caveat Emptor?  

One of my recent experiences of buying something on line and trying to return it, turned into a minor nightmare, so I write this column as a form of therapy.

During my first year of law school, we studied contract law. A part of that course was spent on the concept of CAVEAT EMPTOR. The principle that the buyer assumes the risk of quality and condition unless the buyer protects him/herself by warranty or there has been a false representation. CAVEAT EMPTOR was an English common law principle that replaced the old Roman principle of CAVEAT VENDITOR that actually places the responsibility for defects on the seller. Those principles worked fine when we had face-to-face transactions on Bond Street or the Appian Way. Now, we have the buyer's digits facing off against the seller's digits with the hope that the computer networks can sort it all out. CAVEAT EMPTOR always fell away when the buyer could show a false representation. I am not sure I know what the standards for true and false are anymore. The digital world is compatible with our highly atomized society where communication is often electronic, whether by Facebook, email or text. We hang out in our little cubicles with our laptops replacing windows for a look out on the world. Long gone is that face-to-face world, as harsh as that may sound. Want to have lunch?

In our political world, politicians now communicate by rumor, leaked information and Twitter. Gone are press conferences where the press gets to go face to face with the politicians. This may in part be the result of the news media confusing entertainment with real news, or the need to be first with a story regardless of whether it has been fact checked. Or it may be the distortion field on which politicians play where there is no true or false (e.g., "I did not have sex with that woman"; I did not mock a severely disabled reporter, etc.). It is not wrong to question where our politicians are leading us nor is it unreasonable to ask them about conflicts of interest. Who was it that said: "Trust but verify ..." ? Independent of the political sphere, it is also fair to question where society is going and is everybody on board.

In our commercial world, we buy price competitive goods, probably manufactured off shore, branded by a name from the past, shipped by foreign carriers to multinational distributors and sold through outlets (brick and mortar or our laptops) by vendors who claim no responsibility for the quality of those goods. I think delivery of health care is currently being thoroughly examined because it requires face-to-face interactions, paid for by a soulless third party, who along with everyone else, lost the ability to value that kind of service. I think there are many health care professionals who are resisting the impulse to reduce their patient interaction for the sake of maximizing profit. The legal profession, always a paragon of virtue, has taken the measurement of the hourly fee to dizzying heights, and now even sensible corporate clients are beginning to question the value, or at least the measuring stick, of those legal services. I have recently learned that there are approximately 894,000 sole proprietor owned businesses in Colorado. Surely that is a crowd that enjoys one off relationships. I remain a hands-on lawyer that glories in attorney/client relationship when I have that face-to-face opportunity.

Thanks for allowing me my therapy; I'd be happy if you would share your thoughts on any of my musings or ramblings.