It is a well-established legal principle that if a veterinary surgeon is negligent, and their negligence causes a loss to their client, then they are likely to be liable to compensate that client. A common example of this is if a vet misses an issue during a pre-purchase inspection.
It is sometimes the case that the seller of a horse will obtain a vet report before marketing a horse sale, and will share that report with prospective buyers. If the vet who conducted the inspection for the seller has missed an issue, it is less clear whether the buyer would have a right to claim compensation against the vet.
A successful claim in negligence requires there to be a “duty of care” between the two parties. A vet will always owe a duty of care to their client, but may not owe one to a third party (in this case, the prospective buyer).
The Court of Appeal recently gave judgment in a case concerning a professional’s duty to a third party, who is not their client. In this case, a barrister had given advice to promoters of a series of tax-avoidance schemes, which were sold via financial advisors to wealthy investors. The schemes failed, and the investors sought to sue the barrister in relation to the advice which he had given to the promotors of the scheme, but which had been made available to potential investors.
The Court of Appeal decided that there was no duty of care owed by the barrister to the investors, and their claims were dismissed. The Court affirmed that for a professional to owe a duty of care to a recipient of their advice who is not their client, it must have been both reasonable for the recipient to rely on the advice and reasonably foreseeable to the professional that the recipient would do so.
Therefore, the question of whether vet could be liable to a prospective buyer for advice given to a seller of a horse in respect of a pre purchase report is likely to be highly fact sensitive and a key issue will be whether the vet knew that the seller intended to share their report with potential buyers. However, the judgment referred to above suggests that the Court is reluctant to impose a duty of care on a professional to somebody who is not their client. In light of this, it is prudent for buyers of horses to instruct their own veterinary inspection, where possible.
Take a look at the Horse & Hound coverage of this issue at Buying horses: why you can’t legally rely on a seller’s vetting – Horse & Hound (horseandhound.co.uk)