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Two significant questions lurk in the background of any sale: (1) when does title pass? and (2) who must bear the risk of loss if the goods are destroyed or damaged through no fault of either party?
In general, title passes when the buyer and the seller agree that it passes. If the buyer and the seller fail to specify the time at which title passes, Article 2 lays down four rules: (1) under a shipment contract, title passes when the seller places the goods with the carrier; (2) under a destination contract, title passes when the goods are tendered at the place of delivery; (3) under a contract calling for delivery of documents of title, title passes when the seller tenders documents of title, even if the goods are not physically moved; and (4) when no physical delivery or exchange of documents is called for, title passes when the contract is signed.
The buyer and the seller may also specify who must bear the risk of loss. But if they do not, Article 2 sets out these four rules: (1) when the seller must ship by carrier but not to any particular destination, risk passes to the buyer when the seller delivers the goods to the carrier; (2) when the goods must be transported to a particular destination, risk passes when the carrier tenders them at that destination; (3) if the goods are held by a bailee who has issued a negotiable document of title, risk passes when the buyer receives the document; (4) in other cases, risk of loss turns on whether the seller is a merchant. If he is a merchant, risk passes when the buyer receives the goods; if he is not a merchant, risk passes when the seller tenders the goods. These rules are modified when either of the parties breaches the contract. In general, unless the breach is cured, the risk of uninsured losses lies on the party who breached.
Either party may insure the goods if it has an insurable interest in them. The buyer has an insurable interest in goods identified to the contract—for example, by marking them in some manner. The seller has an insurable interest as long as he retains title or a security interest.
In fixing passage of title and risk of loss, the parties often use shorthand terminology whose meaning must be mastered to make sense of the contract. These terms include F.O.B.; F.A.S.; ex-ship; C.I.F.; C.F.; no arrival, no sale; sale on approval; and sale or return. Use of these terms in a contract can have a significant effect on title and risk of loss.
Sometimes goods are sold by nonowners. A person with voidable title has the power to transfer title to a good-faith purchaser for value. A merchant who deals in particular goods has the power to transfer all rights of one who entrusts to him goods of the kind. And a rightful owner may be estopped by his own acts from asserting title against an innocent purchaser.
In a sale-on-approval contract
As a general rule
In general, title passes
When a destination contract does not specify when title is to pass, it passes
In a C.I.F. contract