A hidden or concealed defect; one which could not be discovered by reasonable and customary observation or inspection. The concept of “latent defects” can relate to both personal property (a defect to the clutch in a lawnmower) and real property (a hidden defect in the title to a piece of land or asbestos in ceiling tiles). Injured parties may be able to recover damages for a latent defect or may be entitled to a refund or a non-defective replacement. In contrast, a patent defect can be discovered by the kind of inspection made in the exercise of ordinary care and prudence.
Protections against latent defects exist in cases regarding both real and personal property. For example, regarding the sale of real property, courts generally follow the doctrine of caveat emptor (let the buyer beware). Under caveat emptor, the buyer bears the burden to reasonably examine property before purchase and takes responsibility for its condition. However, courts have consistently declined to apply the caveat emptor doctrine where there has been concealment or nondisclosure of a latent defect. Parties may also protect themselves by adding clauses about “latent defects” into sales contracts. Regarding the sales of goods, Section 2-608 of the Uniform Commercial Code provides a buyer of goods, upon discovering a hidden defect, may revoke a prior acceptance.
[Last updated in June of 2020 by the Wex Definitions Team]