Wednesday, April 18, 2007

The Bezoar

A bezoar, a type of stone found in the intestines of mostly ruminant animals, was auctioned at Christie’s for €33,600 this week. Bezoar stones were highly sought after in 16th and 17th century England, as they were believed to cure depression and have the power of a universal antidote against any poison. But would the purchaser have a legal remedy if the bezoar did not have the expected magical powers?

This is the scenario that the Exchequer court was presented with in Chandelor v Lopus (1603) 79 Eng Rep 3 which concerned a purchaser who sued for the return of the purchase price of an allegedly fraudulent bezoar. Unfortunately the report does not discuss how the claimant set about differentiating his bezoar from a non-fraudulent bezoar, or indeed how he set about the task of proving that it did not work! The case is more than a legal curiosity, because the court announced for the first time the rule of caveat emptor ("let the buyer beware"), which meant that purchasers were responsible for checking the quality of goods that they purchased. The phrase caveat emptor has entered common usage, and is often used in the context of offers that seem "too good to be true".

It is interesting to consider whether Mr. Chandelor would have had more success in a modern court with the advent of notions of consumer protection and implied warranties that simply did not exist in the law of the early seventeenth century. There is a whole raft of consumer legislation that a feckless/gullible consumer could seek to rely upon. Alternatively, the disgruntled bezoar owner could trade the offending stone for a Carbolic Smoke Ball - as any first year law student could tell you, that will cure all of your ailments!


The Barrister Blog said...

Without entirely wanting to ruin my credibility, doesn't a bezoar feature in one of the Harry Potter books?

Bryan said...

I have recovered a bezoar from a deer. It is the size of a ping pong ball. I would like to sell it.