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Replacement of the goods due to their lack of conformity: Is a pet replaceable?

guinea-pig“The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated.”(Gandhi).

France currently has more than 63 million pets, which means that almost 1 out of 2 households has at least one animal. Despite these, the legal status of the animal has evolved only recently. Indeed, the French legislature has chosen to offer to the animal a new legal status: “Animals are sentient beings. Subject to the laws that protect them, the animals are subjected to property law”. Although the animals are still subjected to property law, they are different than goods and thus have their own legal status. On December 9, 2015, the French High Court issued a judgment in the matter.

On March 2012, a professional breeder had sold a specific breed of puppy “Bichon Frise” to an individual. Unfortunately, the puppy was found to be suffering from a hereditary cataract causing him serious vision problems. The required surgery, to give back the dog a clear vision, was about 1200 Euros per eye, so 2400 Euros total. The seller refused to pay for the surgery.

The buyer sued the breeder for lack of conformity of the good. Article L. 211-9 of the French Consumer Code, states that “In the event of lack of conformity, the buyer shall choose between repair and replacement of the product. The seller may nevertheless elect not to proceed in accordance with the buyer’s choice if that choice gives rise to a manifestly disproportionate cost compared with the other option given the value of the product or the seriousness of the defect”.

In this case, the individual had bought the puppy for the price of 800 Euros, the seller offered, as the only option, the replacement of the dog. The French Supreme Court had to face the following legal issue: Can a pet be replaced under the lack of conformity rule if the choice of the buyer gives rise to a manifestly disproportionate cost for the seller?

The judges responded negatively on the ground that “a dog is a living being, it is unique and as such irreplaceable, and a pet like a dog is intended to receive the affection of its master in return of its company and does not have any economic value, like a dairy cow can have one, it is all the more impossible to replace it, as it is the receptacle of an unique affection, it has then the effect of excluding for all sales of pets, the provisions of Article L. 211-9 of the Consumer Code”. The seller does not have the option anymore to “replace” the pet in case of lack of conformity due to the fact that a pet is unique and thus irreplaceable.

Therefore, it seems appropriate to end this article with a quote that will delight more than one pets’ master “We cannot have two hearts, one for the animals and one for men… We have one heart or we have none” (Lamartine, writer).

Aurélie Costa