Yes, there can be such a thing as a "lemon" puppy (or cat) and, yes, there are lemon pet laws in several states.
Basically, pet lemon laws are intended to protect consumers from sellers who market sick pets to unaware consumers. How much protection you may get will depend on your particular state law though. Like some of the pets, some of the laws aren’t perfect either.
Generally these "puppy lemon laws" let the buyer get a refund when they return a sick puppy or at least get reimbursement for vet bills. Most of these laws cover different kinds of pets but you will need to read your state's law to see if it covers your kind of pet.
Here is a list of the states that have a puppy lemon law at last date checked:
- in the North: Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island and Vermont
- in the South: Arkansas, Delaware, Florida, South Carolina and Virginia
- in the Mid West, Minnesota and Nebraska are the only states with a puppy lemon law
- in the West, only California and Nevada have puppy lemon laws
If your state has a puppy law, then you should have the right to either make the pet store take it back and refund your money or pay the vet bill.
If you state does not have a puppy law, then your sales paperwork may control your legal rights and you should be able to use your state’s commercial and sales laws under a breach of contract theory.
When you make a contract with someone, then as long as the contract is for something that is legal, then it is enforceable. Every state has a special law, however, that says that if more than a small amount of money (sometimes as little as $500) is involved then the contract has to be in writing. It doesn’t have to be anything fancy, but the basic terms have to be written down and usually signed. So, if your sick puppy cost less than $500, you don't need a written contract to bring a claim in most states because the oral contract for the sale is enforceable by itself.
Technically, a contract is defined as an agreement where someone makes an offer to do something, someone accepts that offer, and there is a legally sufficient "consideration" for it. That usually means money but it can mean giving up something besides money too. If one side does not live up to the agreement, then the other side can file a claim against them in court. So if you were told the puppy was not sick and it turned out to be sick, then you may have a claim for breach of contract.
At court you have to prove there was a contract, that the other side did not do what they agreed to do (or perhaps did it wrong), and that they caused damage to occur (usually measured in money). So if they sell you a sick puppy, saying it is not sick, that's a breach.
Some states, however, require that you give the other side a notice that they breached the contract before you can file a claim against them in court. That can be as simple as a note or letter or phone call, but the more money that is involved, the more careful you should be to see that the notice is being done right. Some states also require that you give them a chance to "cure" (make it right) the breach before you can file a claim in court too. So, you have to tell them the puppy is sick and give them a chance to make it right with you.
If your puppy turns out to be ill when you purchase it, then return and complain to the pet shop or store. Try to negotiate to get what you want or what you can accept. If that doesn’t work, you can contact your state attorney general’s office or the Better Business Bureau and see if they can help.
There is little enforcement of these puppy lemon laws and they are generally written to let you do it yourself. You may have to talk to a private attorney for help or in some states you may be able to use your local small claims court process to get your money back.
If you can't work it out, you may want to talk to a local Consumer Law attorney who deals with this kind of case to find out for sure how the law works in your state. Call your local attorney's Bar Association and ask for a referral to a Consumer Law attorney near you or you can go to this web site page for a Free Online 50 State National List of Consumer Law Lawyers (http://www.ohiolemonlaw.com/ocll-site/ocll-locate_local.shtml) and find one near you (lawyers don’t pay to get listed here and most of them are members of the only national association for Consumer Law lawyers, NACA.net).
But act quickly because for every legal right you have, there is only a limited amount of time to actually file a lawsuit in court or your rights expire (it's called the statute of limitations), so don't waste your time getting to a Consumer Law attorney and finding out what your rights are.
Hopefully, your new pet (and you) won't need the protection that a Lemon Law can give, but it's good to know it's there when you need it.
Burdge Law Office
Helping consumers protect themselves everyday