In a sense, the law is like language. It is a dynamic, living thing that changes over time. In no area is that more true than in the areas of product and professional liability. As time has passed, the courts have generally increased a person's liability for his professional actions.
Caveat emptor is a term that encapsulated the judicial approach to product liability in the first half of the 20th century. The term translates to "let the buyer beware." It was a clear acknowledgment that the buyer of goods or services was expected to watch out for himself, and it was the prevailing common law doctrine regarding the transaction between buyers and sellers. It informed the buyer not to rely on the legal system to protect him from sellers that might not treat him fairly. Over time this doctrine has fallen out of favor and has been effectively replaced by a doctrine of caveat vendor.
Caveat vendor translates to "let the seller beware." It characterizes an environment that goes so far as to permit lawsuits against sellers of high-calorie meals in which plaintiffs seek damages because they have become obese. This is the environment in which agents are selling their products and one in which they are at great risk of professional liability.
One of the benefits of acting ethically is its beneficial effect on the likelihood of being held liable for professional actions. Accordingly, in the next chapter, we will begin to examine the sales tools that agents use in order to develop appropriate ethical guidelines to minimize our exposure to that liability.