Caveat is the Latin term that simply means to “beware of” something. It serves to be a warning or a notice. In a legal term, caveat can just refer to a formal legal notice sent to a public officer or a court to suspend a specific proceeding until the person who sent the notice receives a hearing.
The term was more often used in the past by an individual objecting to the appointment of:
• An executor
• Administrator of an estate
• A patent for an invention
However, this meaning is much less used by modern attorneys today.
Today, the term is used more often as short hand for other Latin phrases that are often used in the law, such as caveat emptor, caveat venditor, and caveat lector.
Caveat emptor, which is Latin for “let the buyer beware” is the idea that a buyer should be responsible for reasonably examining an item before choosing to buy it. By doing so, the buyer is responsible for the condition of the product. This is often applied to items that are not covered under a strict warranty. In the United States, caveat emptor is most often used for fitness type of implied warranties.
In the Uniform Commercial Code it specifically states that when a buyer is relying on a seller’s knowledge and skill to purchase the correct item, there is an implied warranty that whatever goods are being sold will be useful. Caveat emptor does apply to this warranty.
Not only is the term applied to an implied warranty of fitness, it is also often done with purchasing merchandise. In most circumstances, a seller is not required to allow have a return policy. Here caveat emptor is applied. The customer has the responsibility to inspect the quality of the product. If the customer finds a problem with the product, the store is not liable for this.
Caveat venditor is the Latin phrase for “let the seller beware” and acts as a counter to caveat emptor. The term suggests that a seller can also be in the position to be deceived during a market transaction. In this situation, the seller must take responsibility for the given product, which can discourage other sellers from attempting to sell products of unreasonable quality.
The phrase was derived from the case MacPherson v Buick Motor Co. in 1916 where Judge Benjamin Cardozo, the New York Court Appeals judge, stated that the privity of duty was no longer required in a lawsuit relating to product liability against the seller.
Caveat Lector, or “let the reader beware,” is used to warn a reader of potential errors in minor details of a passage, but that the general idea is accurate. It can also suggest to the reader that general idea of the passage may be problematic such as being misleading, but the details are fine.