Many of us have been shocked by the on-going horsemeat scandal. Whilst "every little helps" the supermarkets and abattoirs profit margins, the true nature of the contents of our shopping trolleys has been misrepresented to the Great British public.  

I was discussing the current uproar over this news story with a friend, and he asked me the following question: Could innocent shoppers make a claim against the supermarkets for buying a product that in reality wasn't what it claimed to be? In true lawyer fashion I answered "yes,..... and no".

Basically, under the Sale of Goods Act 1979, when a product purports to be something (for example, "100% cow beef"), that description must be correct. If it turns out that the description is wrong, the supermarket has breached its contract with the buyer, and the buyer is entitled to a full refund. The same is true of any product. For example, if you buy a TV and the packaging says "HD ready", then it must be HD ready. If it turns out that the packaging was false, you are entitled to return the product and claim a full refund.

With the on-going horsemeat fiasco, I would hope that in most cases, the supermarkets will be willing to refund unhappy customers. However, once a contaminated food product has been eaten, unless an individual has suffered ill health (although I would stress that no health issues have been raised through eating horsemeat), there would be little point in seeking compensation as the value of any claim would be negligible. 

However, this topic highlights the important legal principle known as 'misrepresentation'. We come across numerous commercial disputes where one party has lost money as a result of untrue, inaccurate or misleading statements made by another party.

Whether a misrepresentation is fraudulent (i.e. the party making it knows it is untrue), negligent (careless), or innocent (without any intent or fault), the party who relies on it may be entitled to rescind the contract (i.e. the parties will be put in a position as if the contract was never agreed, which cannot always be achieved, for example if the beef burger has already been eaten) and/or claim damages to compensate for losses suffered.

Hopefully this has given you some food for thought (every pun intended). If you think you haven't got what you bargained for, you might be entitled to take legal steps to remedy that wrong.