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Many states have some version of a puppy “lemon law” that requires sellers to provide certain guarantees for the puppies they sell. Such a law usually sets forth certain remedial action that the seller must take in particular cases.

Usually the law provides for remedies if a puppy is found to be ill or carrying a hereditary problem or disease within a certain period of time. In New Jersey, for instance, the buyer has 14 days to return a puppy deemed “unfit for purchase” by a veterinarian, and six months to return a dog with a hereditary or genetic defect. The buyer can elect to keep the dog and be reimbursed for vet bills up to the amount of the dog’s purchase price, or can return the dog and get a refund or a replacement dog in addition to a refund of any money spent on vet bills, up to the original puppy’s purchase price.

Many puppy lemon laws include a provision that the rights created by the law are nonwaivable. So even if your contract with the buyer did not mention your state’s law, or explicitly stated that the buyer waived all her rights under the law, or even if there was no written contract, chances are that if your state has a puppy lemon law, it still applies. Again taking New Jersey as an example, if a seller attempts to avoid the provisions of the law, that in itself creates another violation of the law.

You should also consider whether the buyer’s complaint is something that may be covered by the warranty of merchantability or the warranty of fitness for a particular purpose. These warranties are imposed by law—even if the contract does not expressly mention them. The warranty of merchantability says that the item being sold is fit for the “general purpose” of such an item; it is implied in every contract for the sale of goods. According to a number of court cases, the puppy seller is a merchant and puppies are goods in the eye of the law.

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