The Wisconsin Supreme Court recently reaffirmed the State’s commitment to the concept of caveat emptor, or buyer beware, as it relates to transfers of property, thus declining to adopt new law in the State of Wisconsin.
In Brennan v. Charter Manufacturing Co., the Court found that former lessors of a property cannot indefinitely be found liable for creating dangerous conditions that cause injury to subsequent owners. The Court held that a lessor’s duty to subsequent possessors who purchase real estate “as-is” ends when the lessor surrenders possession of the property.
The appealing party admonished the Court to abandon caveat emptor as an archaic proposition, and urged the Court to adopt a policy that would allow a lessor to be liable to subsequent owners.
In its decision, the Court declined to do so, noting that commercial buyers account for unknown risks when they negotiate the terms of their transactions. The Court also noted that adopting the law as the appellant suggested could upend real estate transactions as we know them today – thereby resulting in unending liability for former possessors of a property, who would be held captive essentially as insurers of that property in perpetuity. The Court rejected that result, thus guaranteeing that caveat emptor remains the standard for such transactions for the immediate future.